All participants took part in weekly hour-and-a-half sessions over the course of six weeks. Graduate students provided free child care so parents could relax and enjoy the group. Researchers then tracked their progress for up to six months afterward.
The programs are designed to teach skills that parents can use throughout their day. "If you're committed to really practicing these skills, it's the kind of thing where when you're at a red light you could practice your deep belly breathing, or you could count blessings or think about forgiveness while folding laundry," she said.
The researchers found that both programs led to significant reductions in stress, depression and anxiety. The mothers also reported improved sleep and better satisfaction with life.
The mindfulness program in particular helped mothers, leading to greater improvements than the positive psychology program, the study found.
The findings were published online July 21 and in the August print issue of Pediatrics.
One strength of the federally funded program came from the people who led the classes, Dykens said.
The research team hired mothers of kids with autism to act as peer-mentors, who then passed on the coping skills they learned to other moms in their situation.
"There's a certain rapport that parents have with each other. There's an automatic connection, if you will," she said. "Using that peer-mentor model really may be a way to go, particularly with the shortage of professionals who would be willing to take up such work."
Dr. Paul Wang, senior vice president and head of medical research for Autism Speaks, praised the use of other parents to lead these coping classes.
"Parents naturally trust other people who have been in their shoes,
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