TUESDAY, July 22, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Most therapies for autism focus on the child, but new research suggests the child's stressed-out parents could benefit from treatments designed specifically for them.
Mothers of autistic children who took part in a coping skills program found they connected better with their child and felt less stress, anxiety and depression, report researchers at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville.
"Interventions have, for good reasons, been focused on the child, but what was missing was directly addressing parents' own well-being and health," said study author Elisabeth Dykens, a professor of psychology at Vanderbilt. "It's really important to provide them with the tools they can use to manage their stress, and continue to grow as a parent."
Mothers of children with developmental disabilities like autism tend to experience more stress and poorer health, as well as psychiatric problems like depression. This can harm their ability to care for their child, the study authors said in background information.
The Vanderbilt researchers created two programs that could potentially help mothers of kids with autism, and recruited 243 mothers to participate in one or the other.
Two-thirds of the moms had a child with autism, while the remaining third had a child with another type of developmental disability. At the beginning, 85 percent of the mothers had elevated stress levels, 48 percent were clinically depressed and 41 percent suffered from anxiety.
One program focused on meditation, breathing exercises and mind/body practices like yoga, said Dykens, associate director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development.
The other focused on positive psychology, in which mothers were
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