Parent Mindfulness Training Reduces Severity of Problem Behavior in Children with Autism in Addition to Caregiver Stress

Andrea N. Mascitelli

Advisor: Timothy W Curby, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Johannes Rojahn, Theodore Hoch

David J. King Hall, #1203
July 26, 2018, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM


Severe and chronic problematic behavior in children with autism can be a shattering experience for those families. They also present a considerable challenge to those service providers who are called upon to provide support to those children and their families. Given the catastrophic problem that it is, research has been directed on the causation of such behaviors as well as on the development of effective and efficient behavioral intervention strategies and their empirical evaluation. In the past, most behavioral intervention strategies for problem behaviors were focused primarily on the person afflicted and the respective behavior of concern (direct intervention). However, recent studies on mindfulness training of parents and/or therapists indicate that problem behaviors could be influenced by providing treatment to someone else (indirect intervention). A core mechanism of being mindful is acceptance of a problem that cannot easily be changed, and acceptance has been identified as a protective factor against the negative operational and emotional impact that comes with parenting a child with autism. Therefore, I investigated the effect of mindfulness training to parents of children with autism on their stress and coping strategies, and on the influence on the child’s behavior (without any direct intervention.) The sample consisted of 21 parents of 21 children with autism and a severe behavior problem who were recruited across the mid-Atlantic region. Participants were randomly assigned to a treatment or a waitlist control group merging the logic of group and single-subject experimental designs. Results were compared across control, treatment, and follow-up conditions using statistical tests complemented by visual analysis of the group data. Participant mindfulness increased, use of religion to cope increased, and stress decreased due to mindfulness training. Blind raters confirmed the child’s behavior severity reduced due to mindfulness training. In conclusion, parent-level mindfulness training reduced the behavior severity of children with autism without direct intervention in addition to reducing the parents’ stress.