Pressure! Tension! Anxiety!
New ASD interventions are being developed that aim to improve your own wellbeing as well as your child’s skills
Are you a stressed out parent of a child with ASD?
That’s normal. Research has shown elevated stress in parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), especially in families with a child recently diagnosed.
Are you feeling like your stress level impacts your family and your child with ASD?
That’s also normal. Studies have shown that your own health and wellbeing can have an effect on how things are going at home and how much treatment may help your child with ASD.
Just because it’s normal doesn’t mean we should take it as inevitable and not try to make everyone’s life a little better. A recent study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders by Lauren Turner-Brown and colleagues looked at the importance of parents’ wellbeing and early therapy techniques for children with ASD. Specifically, they developed a program called Family Implemented TEACCH for Toddlers (FITT) based on previous research related to intervention with children with ASD (TEACCH is a program for children with autism that focuses on structured teaching strategies). The goal of FITT was to support families with children recently diagnosed with autism by helping both parents and their children with ASD. To do this, the study measured the toddler’s ASD symptoms and developmental skills, as well as parent stress and wellbeing, at the beginning of the program and after the six-month FITT program. They proposed that FITT would improve developmental and social communication skills in the toddlers and improve parent stress and wellbeing. In addition to the home sessions with parent and child, the intervention included group sessions of three parents that served as an opportunity to learn, but also to connect with the other parents who are in similar situations.
The FITT program included educating families on three main components:
- How autism may be impacting their child
- How to better engage their child throughout the day
- How to implement structured teaching strategies (such as visual schedules and physical organization) and naturalistic behavioral strategies (such as imitating and using age-appropriate language).
How well did it work?
While there was not an impact on children’s general developmental skills, there was an increase in their social communication skills with FITT. However, the greatest effects of FITT were seen in the parents. Other research so far has shown the ability to slow the increase of stress of parents of children newly diagnosed with ASD, but this study actually showed a decrease in stress from the beginning of the program to the end of the program. These parents also had lower stress at the 6-month mark than a control group of similar parents not receiving FITT. Additionally, results showed that parents improved in other mental health areas such as vitality, emotional limitations and especially social functioning.
Where do we go from here?
While the hope was to improve both child and adult measures, this is a promising new program which may be able to be adapted and improved in order to benefit both groups. Though we aren’t quite there yet, the idea that your child’s intervention might in the future include a component specifically aimed at your own wellbeing is encouraging, and not just because other research tells us of the importance of stress levels in parents on their children’s improvement.
Turner-Brown, L., Hume, K., Boyd, B. A., & Kainz, K. (2016). Preliminary Efficacy of Family Implemented TEACCH for Toddlers: Effects on Parents and Their Toddlers with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 1-14.
Welterlin, A., Turner-Brown, L. M., Harris, S., Mesibov, G., & Delmolino, L. (2012). The home TEACCHing program for toddlers with autism. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 42(9), 1827-1835.