Mother to Mother: Easing Caregiver Stress for Parents of Children with Autism

by ahnationtalk on December 7, 201744 Views

Mother to Mother: Easing Caregiver Stress for Parents of Children with Autism

TORONTO, December 7, 2017 – A novel intervention in which mothers of children with autism lead therapy workshops for other mothers of children with autism is showing great promise in reducing stress and depression among caregivers.

The study, published in the journal Mindfulness, found that among the 29 mothers who completed the intervention, virtually all of them reported reduced levels of depression, stress and feelings of social isolation.

“This work demonstrates how parents can and should be innovators and leaders when it comes to promoting parent mental health and physical health,” says lead author Dr. Yona Lunsky, Director of the Health Care Access Research and Developmental Disabilities Program and Senior Scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

“We saw almost everyone benefit in different ways to different degrees,” says co-author and intervention lead Dr. Kenneth Fung, a Toronto Western Hospital psychiatrist who also teaches at the University of Toronto. “Some said it completely changed the way they relate to their child and family.  There was also a strong sense of camaraderie in the group.  They were able to support each other and learn from each other.”

Dr. Fung, who has a 13-year-old son with autism, trained two mothers who also have children with autism to be co-facilitators in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) workshops for other mothers.  He describes ACT as combining the principles of Mindfulness with the ability to be accepting of negative thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way.

Kelly Bryce, a Registered Nurse with Surrey Place Centre in Toronto, was one of the co-facilitators of the study. As the mother of a 14-year-old boy with autism, she is intimately familiar with the chronic stress that often goes with those primary care responsibilities. After being taught the principles of ACT by Dr. Fung, she supplemented her education with a four-month course in ACT at McMaster University before co-facilitating the workshops for this study.

“It was a really intense way to become vulnerable and connect with people you don’t know. I loved that about it,” she says.

Bryce says that the mothers who participated in the workshops found them so empowering that now, two years after the study period, they still get together on a monthly basis to continue working on self-care and resiliency.

“A lot of the mothers we met in our group have so much to offer that they would be great facilitators themselves,” says Bryce. “They are so invested in what this is all about– those are the best kind of teachers.  When you are learning from someone who gets your struggle, it’s so much easier to connect with them.”

To see a video featuring participants in the study talking about their experiences, click here​.

The project was collaboration between CAMH, University Health Network and Surrey Place Centre.

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The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital and a world leading research centre in this field. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental illness and addiction. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre. For more information, please visit camh.ca or follow @CAMHnews and @CAMHresearch on Twitter.

Media Contact:
Sean O’Malley
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
(416) 595-6015
media@camh.ca​​​​​​​​

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