Mothers of children with autism have been shown to have high levels of stress, symptoms of depression and isolation. While children diagnosed with autism get assigned certain programs and therapies to assist them, mental health services are rarely offered to the parent of the child. Although the child with autism should be the main focus, the impact on the family of an autistic child is important and needs to be addressed.
Therefore, a recent study was conducted to see whether a particular kind of therapy that focuses on skill building would significantly help mothers who have recently found out their child has autism. Mothers who were given this particular therapy did in fact end up being less likely to have stress than parents who only got information on how to handle their child’s diagnosis.
The subjects recruited for this study were mothers of newly diagnosed autistic children from Boston community programs that serve low-income families. 59 of the 122 mothers were randomly given the problem-solving skills therapy, while the rest got the usual care prescribed for autistic children.
The skills therapy included activities that helped mothers identify problems they were having and then work towards resolutions. For example, loneliness can be a common problem. A solution could be for the mother to go out with friends, but she is faced with the problem of needing someone to watch her child. The therapy helps her set goals to resolve this problem based on her individual situation. For example, perhaps she can ask her sister to watch her child while she goes out.
The hope is that this therapy helps mothers develop problem-solving skills that they can use in the future to ensure that they are not as stressed. The researchers of the study plan to reevaluate the women in nine months to see if these skills they have learned do in fact have a lasting effect.
29% of mothers in the group who didn’t get the therapy reported stress symptoms that were cause for alarm, compared to 4% of the mothers receiving the therapy. There was also a reduction in significant depression symptoms among mothers in therapy.
This therapy could help decrease the stress of parents and make them better prepared to meet their autistic children’s needs. Although the exact therapy tested in the new study is not available right now, support groups or traditional mental health programs could also be very helpful for parents.
By: Rachel Schranck