Pick up any book, read any article, or watch any program about autism and you will see that the focus is front and center on the child. His wants. His needs. His troubles. And that is how it should be. Kids with autism face varying degrees of social, economic, and academic struggles and most information about the disorder focusing on helping them deal with these issues. But take a closer look at these kids and you will see something almost hiding in the background. The parents. Particularly, the moms.
Academic research has shown what most people already know - parents of children with autism experience more stress, illness, and psychiatric problems than parents of children without disabilities. Yet autism services - such as counseling and assistance - are only available for the children affected by autism.
But a study published recently in the journal Pediatrics, took a closer look at the health of these moms and found that when efforts are made to help them reduce stress, everybody in the family benefits.
For the study, researchers enlisted 243 mothers of children with varying disabilities and randomly enrolled them in either mindfulness practice or 'positive psychology' sessions. Each week the mothers attended the 1.5 hour sessions. Their stress levels and health were assessed at the beginning, middle, and end of the study. At the beginning of the study, 85 percent of the women had significantly elevated stress levels, 48 percent were clinically depressed, and 41 percent had anxiety disorders.
Researchers found that after the six week study period, the mothers in both groups experienced significantly lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression. They also reported getting more sleep and feeling an overall improvement in life satisfaction. Mothers in Mindfulness-Based sessions saw the greatest improvements.
It doesn't take a scientific study to prove that a mother who has lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression is better able to care for her family.
The study's authors argue that autism professionals should be trained to meet the health needs of the parents, as well as the children with autism. And that doing so would improve the parent's ability to care for children with complex developmental, physical, and behavioral needs.
When mom gets relief, the whole family benefits.
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