Lower stress and depression levels in mothers of children with autism following responsive teaching

Summary: Responsive teaching techniques help improve parental stress and depression in mothers whose children are on the autism spectrum.

Source: Case Western Reserve University

Mothers of young children with autism who focus on improving the quality of their own relationship skills–as opposed to teaching developmental skills to their children–experience dramatic improvements in their level of parenting stress and depression.

That’s according to a new research study involving Case Western Reserve University.

The study, 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, examined the effects of this technique in a small experimental research study involving 28 preschool-aged children with autism and their parents in Saudi Arabia.

One focus of the study was to examine whether mothers’ high stress and depression levels might improve based on their level of responsiveness in daily interactions with their children.

“Saudi Arabia is a country where there are not a lot of services for young children with disabilities,” Mahoney said. “We wanted to examine the effects of this low-cost intervention strategy that focused on improving the quality of parents’ involvement with their children and evaluate the effects of this intervention on both children and their parents.”

Mahoney was joined in this study by a team of researchers from King Saud University and King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Autism is a disability not only affecting child development but also interfering with children’s ability to engage in social interaction with their parents and others. Parents of children with autism commonly report extremely high levels of parenting stress and depression not only when their children are young but continuing throughout childhood.

Mahoney said that “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.”

So, focusing on improving mother/child relationships made sense, he said.

Mahoney said the strategy worked.

This shows a mom and son

One focus of the study was to examine whether mothers’ high stress and depression levels might improve based on their level of responsiveness in daily interactions with their children. The image is in the public domain.

At the beginning of this four-month study, all parents reported clinical levels of stress, and 70% reported clinical levels of depression. By the end of the research, the percentage of parents who received responsive teaching experiencing clinical levels of stress dropped to 30%; and the percentage of parents experiencing clinical levels of depression dropped to 15%. In comparison, there were no improvements reported for parents in the control group receiving no treatment.

In addition, children of parents receiving responsive teaching made significant developmental improvements as well: 44% attained better social skills; 37% improved language development, and 24% enhanced fine motor skills compared to children in the control group.

These findings 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,” said Mahoney, who has spent decades researching interventions for children with disabilities. “By changing the intervention to a relationship-focused approach, we found that mothers’ depression and stress dropped dramatically.”

About this neuroscience research article

Source:
Case Western Reserve University
Media Contacts:
Colin McEwen – Case Western Reserve University
Image Source:
The image is in the public domain.

Original Research: Closed access
“Relationship-based Intervention with Young Children with Autism in Saudi Arabia: Impediments and Consequences of Parenting Stress and Depression”. Turki Alquraini, Ali Al-Odaib, Hesham Al-Dhalaan, Haniah Merza & Gerald Mahoney.
International Journal of Disability, Development and Education. doi:10.1080/1034912X.2018.1487042

Abstract

Relationship-based Intervention with Young Children with Autism in Saudi Arabia: Impediments and Consequences of Parenting Stress and Depression

This investigation examined the consequences and effects of the severity of mothers psychosocial functioning as assessed by measures parenting stress and depression in a randomised control trial of a Relationship-based Intervention (RBI) called Responsive Teaching (RT). The sample included 28 parents and preschool aged children with Autism from Saudi Arabia. RT subjects received weekly parent–child intervention sessions for 4 months. Dependent variables were mothers’ style of interaction as assessed by the PICCOLO at post intervention as well as pre- and post-measures of parenting stress and depression. There were three findings from this study. First, mothers who participated in this study had extremely high levels of psychosocial dysfunction. Nearly all reported clinical levels of parenting stress and more than 40% reported clinical levels of depressive symptoms. Second, high levels of psychosocial dysfunction did not prevent mothers from participating in RT as indicated by their ability to integrate RT strategies into their interactions with their children. Third, RT was associated with substantial improvements in mother’s parenting stress and depression. Implication for early intervention practice are discussed.

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