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Interventions that target improvements in mental health for parents of children with autism spectrum disorders: A narrative review


Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) suggest that one in 68 children is affected. With convincing evidence that parenting a child with ASD is associated with elevated distress and mental health problems, researchers have begun to investigate treatments that directly target parents' psychological well-being. We conducted a narrative review of studies that empirically tested the effects of interventions targeting improvements in the mental health of parents of children with ASD. Following a range of search strategies, a total of 13 studies, seven randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and six pre-post test designs, met inclusion criteria. We calculated and reported effect sizes for all RCTs. On average, treatment produced medium to large effect sizes with improvements in parenting stress and general health, and reductions in depression and anxiety. Interventions that appeared promising included: Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques, Expressive Writing, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. However, only one study conducted a follow-up assessment >3months post intervention. Study populations primarily consisted of English-speaking mothers, ages 39 to 42years. Conclusions were limited by small sample sizes, homogeneity of sample population, and reliance on self-report. Therefore, this body of research contains significant limitations in need of improvement for this field to move forward and benefit a sizable number of parents.

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