Nearly everyone recognizes the need to offer appropriate treatments and interventions to children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), but little research has been done to determine how parents and caregivers can be supported in taking care of a child with autism, despite the fact that several studies have found that mothers of children with ASD report high levels of psychological stress, as well as symptoms of depression and isolation. Researchers from Boston University designed and tested a therapy program to help the mothers of children with ASD actively address stress. They found that the mothers who went through the program exhibited less stress afterwards.

The researchers recruited 122 mothers of children with ASD from a Boston autism clinic and other community programs that offer support to low-income families; 59 mothers participated in a problem-solving skills therapy course and the remaining 63 received only the typical services prescribed in the child’s treatment plan. The problem-solving skills course consisted of six sessions through a period of two months. During the sessions, the women worked with an educator to complete exercises from a workbook. They learned how to identify problems that could cause stress in their lives, how to solve those problems with concrete solutions, and how to set goals to resolve a problem. The researchers explained that the goal of the training was to help the women overcome future stressors that can arise in raising a child with ASD.

Three months after beginning the study, 29% of the mothers who did not receive skills-therapy training reported a concerning amount of stress. However, only 4% of the mothers who finished the problem-solving training reported a comparable level of stress. The researchers also observed a minor reduction in worse-than-normal symptoms of depression in the therapy group; the authors state that a larger study would probably be needed to detect a more significant difference.

The therapy used in this study is not currently available, but parents and caregivers can find support from groups or traditional mental health programs.

“I think what this offers is an evidence-based intervention that really focuses on skill building and that does not seem to be widely available at this point,” stated the study’s lead author Emily Feinberg.

This research is published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Learn more about how iLs works with autism on our autism page.

Previous news in autism: