Last updated on February 2018

Development of a Resiliency Training Program for Parents of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Brief description of study

This study has three aims:

Phase I: Through focus group interviews with expert clinicians, leaders of organizations, and parents with children with ASD, this study aims to identify the psychosocial needs of parents of children with ASD, specifically a) the types of concerns that parents find most difficult and stressful b) areas of concern that lack support and resources, and c) areas of need for education and skill training. This study also aims to gather feedback on the Benson-Henry Institute's Relaxation Response Resiliency Program (3RP).

Phase II: Informed by Phase I findings, this study aims to develop and determine the feasibility and acceptability of a virtual 8-session Relaxation Response Resiliency (3RP) program for parents of children with ASD.

Phase II: This study also aims to test the effectiveness of a pilot wait-list control trial, establishing efficacy of a virtual resiliency program.

Detailed Study Description

According to the Center for Disease Control in 2012, 14.6 per 1,000 children aged 8 years old have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Having a child with ASD is associated with medical expenditures of 4.1-4.6 times more than having a child without autism, and associated with 8.4-9.5 times greater general expenditures. Furthermore, children with ASD are more likely to use out-of-school behavioral health services than children without developmental or psychiatric diagnoses. Parents of children with ASD consistently show high levels of perceived distress and anxiety related to child-parent relationships, intellectual functioning, adaptive behaviors, in addition to poorer health than parents of children of typical development. These parents also exhibit significant stress related to the emotional and financial challenges of putting together treatment and future-related plans for their children. Recent studies have found a positive relationship between caregivers' stress levels while raising a child with ASD and child behavioral and conduct problems.

There is growing literature on the increased levels of parental stress associated with caring for children with ASD. One study found that caregivers of children with ASD with behavioral, hyperactivity, and emotional problems displayed atypical cortisol patterns, a biological marker of increased stress. A review article provides a comprehensive overview of the links between high levels of parental stress among parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities and child health and well-being. In addition to social phobias associated with children with ASD, one study even found that caring for a child with ASD showed higher stress levels for the parents correlated with the child's social impairment severity. Finally, recent studies have also found that many parents of children with ASD exhibit psychological and physical depressive symptoms. Therefore, having a children with ASD is associated with an increased risk of problems with emotional and physical health and social well-being. Resiliency is a multidimensional construct that refers to the ability to maintain adaptation and effective functioning when faced with stressors.

Resiliency provides a framework for understanding the adjustment to stress as a dynamic process. Allostasis refers to the capacity to maintain stability of physiological systems in the face of adversity. When exposed to chronic stressors, such as care for a child with ASD, individuals expend a great deal of energy attempting to maintain allostasis; this can lead to the metabolic wear and tear described as allostatic load. Evidence is accumulating that this wear and tear is mediated by changes in basal stress system activity and by effects of these changes on dependent systems. Allostatic load and resilience can therefore be assessed by measuring basal stress system activity (HPA axis and salivary alpha-amylase).

Thus, research to reduce these parents' exposure to stress and, moreover, improve parental responses to stress, may improve the wellbeing of both parents and their children. Yet, a treatment focused on the psychosocial needs in relation to stress and allostatic load of parents of children with ASD has not been developed. Research is warranted to examine and intervene upon parental stress. This study aims to design and develop a resiliency intervention to provide support to parents of children with ASD.

This intervention will be a modified version of Dr. Park's evidence-based 8-week multimodal treatment which is designed to promote adaptation to stress and promotion of resiliency. The program is an 8 session, 1-1.5 hours a week multi modal intervention that incorporates relaxation techniques, stress awareness discussion, and adaptive strategies for coping with stress. This study will refine an 8-session group virtual-delivered resiliency treatment program consisting of 8 virtual group 1-1.5 hour sessions. The goal of this study would be to advance our ultimate objective to implement a national parental resiliency program.

Clinical Study Identifier: NCT02995408

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