Alleviating Stress for Parents of Children with Developmental Disabilities

Parenting a child with severe developmental disabilities, such as autism, genetic syndromes, or psychiatric issues, may experience depression and anxiety from the overwhleming struggles of finding support services, the financial strain of paying for various therapies, and the sheer weight of worrying about everything.

A study in the journal Pediatrics conducted at Vanderbilt University randomly divided 243 mothers for six weeks of training in either a mindfulness group that included meditation, breathing exercises and qigong practices, or a “positive adult development” group that learned to curb negative thoughts, practice gratitude, and reclaim an aspect of adult life. Both trainings led to significant reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as improved sleep and life satisfaction for the adults. But the mothers in the mindfulness group saw greater improvements in anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

The lead author of the study emphasized the importance of stress reduction for parents of children with developmental disabilities because they are often facing a lifetime of caregiving responsibility. Although parents may initially think “I don’t have time for self-care,” by the end of the six-week training, some parents realized that “When I fill my own cup, I have more to give.” Some didn’t realize how depleted they were.

A full version of this article originally appeared in the Health section of the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday, July 30, 2014.

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