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Parents of Developmentally Disabled Children Benefit From Peer Mentors

Posted by Brian Spence on Nov 10, 2014 8:00:00 AM

Developmentally Disabled, Autism, Mentor, Behavioral Health, Mental Health, Staffing Services Parents of children who are on the autism spectrum often experience a broad range of emotions. The initial diagnosis may be an extraordinarily stressful time as the family goes through a period of adjustment. It's likely that families will also experience some degree of financial stress due to expensive treatments and ongoing therapies. There are a number of other challenges that families with children on the autism spectrum experience which might cause them to feel isolated from other families in the community.

According to a study published in Pediatrics journal, ". . . mothers of children on the autism spectrum frequently rated their mental health status as 'poor' or 'fair'. They had a much higher stress level than the general population."

These mothers reported feeling a variety of emotions, including: being overwhelmed yet relieved by having a diagnosis, anger directed towards their spouse or their doctor, resentment towards the child, anger towards themselves, guilt, isolation from friends and family, and embarrassment.

While it's clear that parents of children on the autism spectrum could benefit from support services, most services for families of children with disabilities focus on the needs of the children. This often leaves overwhelmed parents with little support or guidance.

A recent study found that mothers of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities benefited greatly from training and support from peer mentors.

During the 6 week study, mindfulness and positive psychology based interventions were delivered by peer mentors in two separate groups.

  1. One group focused on breathing, meditation, and self-awareness techniques-- all part of a mindfulness based stress reduction intervention.

  2. The second group of participants focused on their virtues and unique strengths in an effort to counterbalance their negative emotions. The peer mentors who co-led the interventions were mothers of children with disabilities themselves, perhaps making them more relatable to the study participants.

The study used a total of 243 mothers-- 65% of whom had children with autism and 35% of whom had children with other developmental disabilities. At the start of the study, almost half of the mothers had elevated depression scores using the Beck Depression Inventory and 35.7% had heightened anxiety. In addition, over 85% of mothers had elevated stress scores on the Parenting Stress Index.

At the conclusion of the interventions, the mothers' measurements of anxiety and depression were significantly improved. In addition, moderate improvements in insomnia and personal distress were noted. There were also small but notable improvements in measures of parental dysfunction.

Perhaps most encouraging is the possibility that the natural rapport that tends to occur between parents can have a positive impact on the mental health of mothers of the developmentally disabled.

For more information on hiring professionals who help children with developmental disabilities, please contact us.

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