Parenting can be a stressful business, and parents of children with developmental disabilities know this all too well. Even though high levels of parental stress, anxiety, and sleep disturbance have been associated with poorer outcomes in the children of such parents, there has been little research as to how to best help these parents directly (as opposed to help aimed at their children).
A new study in the latest issue of Pediatrics has found that when mothers of children with such disabilities as autism, Asperger disorder, pervasive development disorder, and psychiatric conditions were given the opportunity to work with well-trained, supervised peer mentors, using Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for six weeks of group treatments in 1.5-hour weekly sessions, the mothers showed significant reductions in stress, depression, and anxiety, and improved sleep and life satisfaction, with particularly large effects in depression and anxiety. Another group, utilizing Positive Adult Development (positive psychology practice) also showed improvement, but not as significantly as the Mindfulness group.
Importantly, the moms in both treatment groups continued to improve even after the initial six week program, and the researchers report that the positive impact of the work with the peer mentors was still evident six months after the treatment period. The authors of the study note that helping parents to cope with stress and improving their mental health will not only enhance the quality of the parents' lives, but also impact their long term ability to function as effective caretakers of their children.