Mental Health Outcomes of a Parent Educations and Support Group for Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 12, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
S. J. Cohen1, J. Hai2 and M. Boyer1, (1)University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, (2)Education, UC Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA
Background: Parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) report greater parenting stress, marital distress, and mental health symptomology than parents of typically developing children, as well as parents of children with other types of disabilities (Hayes & Watson, 2013; Karst & Van Hecke, 2012; Dabrowska & Pisula, 2010). Research suggests that social support, parenting self-efficacy, and coping styles moderate the association between autism and parenting stress (Dunn et al., 2001; Kuhn & Carter 2006). Parent support groups in general have been shown to raise awareness, decrease stress, and increase empowerment among participants (Soloman, M., Pistrang, N., Barker, C., 2001). Although many support groups of varying structures exist for parents of children with ASD, little research exists on the mental health outcomes of these groups.

Objectives: The objective of the present study is to determine the impact of an 8-week Parent Education and Support group on the mental health and quality of life of parents of children with ASD.

Methods: Twenty parents will participate in this study. Families (i.e. parent dyads) will be randomly assigned to either the treatment or waitlist control condition. Thus, both groups will ultimately participate in the intervention. Before the treatment group begins the intervention, all parents will complete standardized self-report assessment measures of parenting stress, anxiety, depression, marital adjustment, and satisfaction with life. All parents will complete these measures again eight weeks later, after the treatment group has completed the intervention, and once again, eight weeks later, after the waitlist group has completed the intervention. The intervention will consist of an eight week curriculum that incorporates educational components within a discussion-based support group. The curriculum will include psycho-education about ASD, exploring strengths and challenges, discussion of resources for families with ASD (e.g. autism friendly hair dressers, dentists, community activities, etc.), navigating public education (e.g. advocacy in schools, Individualized Education Plans, Special Education, etc.), self-care, and coping skills. Parents will meet weekly with two graduate student clinicians, supervised by a licensed psychologist. Free childcare will be provided for all participating parents to allow participation of parents who might otherwise not be able to attend.

Results: This research study will be completed in March of 2018. Based on past research and current literature, we hypothesize that reported feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress will decrease, and that self-reported martial adjustment and satisfaction with life will increase for the parents who complete the eight week intervention, compared with the waitlist control group.

Conclusions: The results of this study will provide information regarding the effectiveness of this intervention for parents of children with ASD. The goal for these facilitated parent education and support groups is that parents will build social connections, increase their understanding of their child and how to support him/her, increase their awareness of resources available to them, and build effective coping strategies. As a result, we hope parents will experience less stress, anxiety, and depression, and experience greater marital satisfaction and quality of life.