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Study Finds Reduced Stress, Depression in Mothers of Young Children With Autism

Raising a child can be a stressful and demanding experience, and all the more so when the child has special needs. A new study suggests that mothers of young children with autism who focus on improving the quality of their own relationship skills, rather than teaching their children developmental skills, experience reduced levels of stress and depression. According to a report this month by Eureka, the study was co-authored by Gerald Mahoney, the Verna Houck Motto Professor of Families and Communities and associate dean for research and training at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. To explore the effectiveness of this technique in reducing depression and stress, Mahoney and his colleagues conducted a four-month study involving 28 pre-school aged children and their parents in Saudi Arabia. Researchers from Saudi Arabia’s King Saud University and the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center also participated in the study. Mahoney said that Saudi Arabia was chosen due to its limited range of services for young children with special needs. As a result, a “low-cost” intervention strategy, such as improving the quality of parents daily interaction with their children, might be especially beneficial.

As Mahoney noted, “parents of autistic children in Saudi Arabia are generally not involved with intervention services there, while parent involvement is a major focus of early intervention services in the United States and elsewhere." Overall, the study proved to be effective. At the start of the study, all of the parents reported clinical levels of stress, while 70% reported depression. By the end of the study, the clinical levels of stress among parents who had received responsive teaching had dropped to 30%, and the percentage of parents experiencing clinical depression dropped to 15%. This contrasts sharply with the group of parents who did not receive treatment, where no improvements were reported. The study was beneficial to the children as well. 44% of the children whose parents received responsiveness teaching showed improved social skills; 37% showed improved language development; and 24% showed enhanced fine motor skills, compared with the children whose parents did not receive training. The results of the study were recently published in the International Journal of Disability, Development and Education.

“Although this was a small sample, we can say that this research was quite successful," Mahoney said. "By changing the intervention to a relationship focused approach, we found that mothers' depression and stress dropped dramatically."



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