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Randomized Controlled Trial to Evaluate Written Disclosure as Treatment for Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Author(s): Da Paz, Nikko S.
  • Advisor(s): Wallander, Jan L.
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License
Abstract

Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders experience poorer health and greater stress than parents in the general population. With prevalence rates of ASD rapidly increasing, it is imperative to identify effective interventions targeting parent health and well-being. Investigations of written disclosure (WD) have shown promising results in the general population but a paucity of research has evaluated WD with parents of children with ASD. Further, subjective reports have traditionally provided evidence for treatment efficacy. To address these limitations, we conducted a randomized controlled trial with 71 parents of children with ASD (ages 23 to 62 years; M = 38.0, SD = 10.35). At baseline and 6-month follow-up, we evaluated self-reported health (global health, perceived stress, parenting stress, and caregiver strain) and objective biomarkers (salivary cortisol and ambulatory blood pressure). We hypothesized that parents who wrote about traumatic events (treatment) would display better health compared to parents who wrote about a neutral topic (control). As expected, treatment parents displayed more robust cortisol activity, F(1,52) = 12.08; p = .002, and reported less perceived stress, F(1,56) = 9.14; p = .004. While conditions did not differ at follow-up, parenting stress (F(1,56) = 7.64; p = .008) and caregiver strain (F(1,56) = 6.46; p = .014) were reported significantly better for all parents over time. There were no differences between conditions in global health and blood pressure. Thus, results partially support WD as an effective treatment for parents of children with ASD. Given the small sample size, caution is warranted for generalizability.

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