Evaluating the Effects of the ACT Matrix on Values-Aligned Behaviors of Parents of Autistic Children

Rebecca Correll

Major Professor: Robert Pasnak, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Sabine Doebel, Christine Barthold, Allison Jack

Online Location, Online
July 20, 2022, 02:00 PM to 04:00 PM


Parenting an autistic child involves increased financial strain, time burdens, and social isolation when compared to parenting a neurotypical child. These unique stressors are thought to contribute to the added stress and decreased wellbeing of parents of autistic children. Interventions based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) have been particularly effective with parents of autistic children. However, the full ACT treatment package can be costly and time-consuming to complete. The ACT Matrix is a promising intervention that incorporates the six core dimensions of ACT in a comprehensive yet succinct manner. These core processes include acceptance, defusion, contact with the present moment, self-as-context, values, and committed actions. 

The current study examined the effect of the ACT Matrix on values-aligned parenting behaviors for parents of autistic children. The researcher implemented a concurrent multiple baseline design across three participants, all of whom were parents of autistic children and demonstrated high levels of stress as measured by the Parenting Stress Index – 4th edition (PSI-4). The researcher also conducted a pretest measure of psychological flexibility using the Acceptance and Action Questionnaire (AAQ-II). In addition to these pretest measures of stress and psychological flexibility, participants collected daily data on their values-aligned parenting behaviors. Following baseline, participants engaged in a 45-minute ACT Matrix intervention with the researcher. Participants continued to collect daily data on values-aligned parenting behaviors for two to three weeks following the intervention. Interobserver agreement (IOA) was collected for 33% of sessions and averaged 95.05% across baseline and intervention sessions. Results of daily behavior observations indicate a functional relationship between the ACT Matrix and increased values-aligned parenting behaviors, with 100% PND and an average increase of 66.12% of values-aligned parenting behavior from baseline to treatment conditions. On pretest measures of psychological flexibility, all participants scored above the cutoff for depression and anxiety. On posttest measures, all participants dropped below this cutoff, indicating a substantial increase in psychological flexibility. Pretest measures of parenting distress ranged from >99th to the 85th percentile. Posttest measures showed improvements ranging from the 91st to 62nd percentile. Hence a brief, 45-minute engagement in the ACT Matrix improved values-aligned parenting behavior and may also have increased psychological flexibility while decreasing parenting-related stress. These findings have implications for interventionists supporting parents of autistic children to increase their values-aligned parenting behavior.