Mindfulness-Based Program for Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Qualitative Study of the Experiences of Children and Parents

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
A. Ridderinkhof1, E. I. de Bruin1, R. Blom2 and S. M. Bögels1,3, (1)Research Institute of Child Development and Education, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands, (2)Child and adolescent psychiatric center Karakter, Zwolle, Netherlands, (3)Academic outpatient child and adolescent treatment center UvA minds, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Background: Effective psychosocial intervention options for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are sparse. Mindfulness-based programs for children with ASD and for their parents are a potentially promising approach to improve their quality of life. However, research in the field of mindfulness for ASD is in the beginning stages worldwide. Mindfulness is primarily an internal experience. The way people relate to their internal thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and action tendencies is the target of mindfulness trainings. Therefore, it seems valuable to include a qualitative approach to investigate the experiences of children and parents.

Objectives: This study explores what children with ASD and their parents perceive as benefits of a mindfulness-based program with parallel sessions for children and parents, and how they explain the processes that lead to these benefits. Thereby, our aim is to contribute to theory development on how mindfulness-based programs might work for this population from a participants’ perspective.

Methods: Participants were 11 children with ASD, aged 9 till 17 years old, and 22 parents (mothers and fathers) that took part in the mindfulness-based program MYmind. MYmind consisted of nine weekly parallel sessions for children and parents of 1.5 h. After two months a booster session took place. The program consisted of educating theory, practicing meditations, and discussing experiences. Thereby, participants trained to pay attention to the present moment with a non-judgmental attitude, including awareness of bodily sensations, feelings, and thoughts, and to cultivate an accepting and compassionate stance towards experiences. Interviews were conducted within six weeks after the booster session and lasted between 30 and 60 minutes. Children and parents were interviewed separately. The interviews were transcribed and incorporated into ATLAS.ti. Guidelines of grounded theory are followed to analyze the data.

Results: Main categories that emerged from the preliminary analyses are acknowledging feelings and thoughts, taking a moment for mindfulness in daily situations, increased calmness, and improved relating to the needs of the child. Several processes seem to lead to the benefits of mindfulness. Participants describe that acknowledging feelings or thoughts leads to choosing how to respond rather than responding automatically, which leads to responding more calmly. Also, acknowledging feelings towards themselves leads to acknowledging feelings of and towards others, which leads to more constructive solutions in the interaction between children and parents. Furthermore, taking a moment for mindfulness leads to increased calmness, which helps to respond less emotionally, to improve school work, or to better fall asleep. Children seem to describe the same constructs as their parents, but with less depth in their explanations.

Conclusions: Children with ASD and their parents are able to give insights into the processes of change following from a mindfulness-based program. This study provides a participants’ perspective on how mindfulness-based programs might work for children with ASD and their parents.