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Research Summary

Mindfulness Therapy Helps Adults with Autism

Suzanne Robinson | York University
Researchers randomly divided 40 adults with an autism diagnosis into a mindfulness group and a wait-list for the treatment. Positive outcomes of the mindfulness group were found.

What you need to know?

Mindfulness may have positive effects on relieving anxiety and depression symptoms in adults with an ASD diagnosis. The program helped relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression and rumination.


What is the research about?

Adults with autism are at an increased risk for depression and anxiety. It is important to find programs and treatments that may help relieve these symptoms. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction may be beneficial for adults with ASD. Mindfulness involves being present in the moment, and accepting thoughts and emotions as they appear, in a non-judgmental way.   This study examined how mindfulness can help adults with ASD by reducing feelings of anxiety, depression and rumination. Rumination, or thinking repetitively about something negative, is thought to be an important factor in depression and anxiety.


What did the researchers do?

Researchers randomly divided 40 adults with ASD into one of two groups. One group attended a 9-week mindfulness program and the other group was on a wait-list for the treatment. The mindfulness program involved meditation exercises, group discussions and some home practicing. Researchers used questionnaires with all the adults to measure feelings of anxiety, depression, rumination and positive mood. Both the treatment and the wait-list group completed the questionnaires before and after treatment.


What did the researchers find?

After the mindfulness program, participants showed less depression, anxiety and rumination compared to people on the waitlist. The reduction in rumination stood out as important to people feeling less anxious and depressed. Mindfulness program participants also showed more positive mood compared to those on the waitlist.


How can you use this research?

Adults with ASD can benefit from mindfulness training and use these skills to increase well-being. This is one of the first studies of its kind and the results are promising. More research involving a larger number of participants and different assessment methods is needed. A follow up study is also needed to see if the symptom relief had a lasting effect after the study was completed. Clinicians can consider using mindfulness skills and techniques when treating anxiety and depression in adults with ASD.


About the researcher

Annelies Spek, Nadia van Ham and Ivan Nyklicek  are researchers from the Netherlands. Annelies Spek is a clinical psychologist and senior researcher at Autism center in Eindhoven, Netherlands.

This summary is based on their study: Spek, A., van Ham, N. & Nyklicek, I. (2013). Mindfulness-based therapy in adults with an autism spectrum disorder: A randomized controlled trial. It is published in Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34, 246-253. 


This research summary was written by Suzanne Robinson for the Chair in Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment and Care Research. The Chair was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in partnership with Autism Speaks Canada, the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance, Health Canada, NeuroDevNet and the Sinneave Family Foundation. Additional funds from the Spectrum of Hope Autism Foundation and support from York University and the ORION's O3 Collaboration.

Reproduced with the permission of Dr. Jonathan Weiss (York University). This research summary was developed with funding from the Chair in ASD Treatment and Care Research. The Chair was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in partnership with Autism Speaks Canada, the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance, Health Canada, Kids Brain Health Network (formerly NeuroDevNet) and the Sinneave Family Foundation. This information appeared originally in the Autism Mental Health Blog (

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

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