What you need to know
Research is shedding light on the effectiveness of MBT use in supporting youth with autism and their parents. Overall, the program has shown benefits for those who participate. Further study about Mindfulness for individuals with autism is needed as its effectiveness and best practices are not yet fully known.
What is this research about?
MYmind is a mindfulness-based training program in which both youth with autism and their parents engage in mindfulness exercises toward a goal of supporting both parties and the relationship between them. Previous research indicates that mindfulness may positively impact the ability of an individual with autism to take in new information and address challenges with more flexibility and ultimately increase overall wellbeing in day-to-day life. Parents also can benefit from being given the tools to recognize and accept feelings relating to their child and their own situation.
Two previous research studies examining MYmind have shown promising results based on post treatment follow-up with the families. The researchers in this study aimed to strengthen this body of research by comparing results to a baseline of youth and parent functioning (before program commencement).
What did the researchers do?
The researchers recruited participants through local autism service newsletters and websites. Twenty-three parent/youth pairs competed the program and completed accompanying assessments. The youth ranged from 12 to 23 years old. The criteria for participation was that the youth had a confirmed diagnosis of autism, difficulties with communication and social responsiveness, and willingness to engage in mindfulness sessions. Pairs were not included if the youth had a diagnosis of intellectual disability, aggressive/self-injurious behaviors, or if either parent or youth was currently involved in overlapping psychotherapy.
Parents and youth were in separate groups in which mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral-therapy techniques were offered. The youth group focused on improving awareness, distress tolerance, and self-control while the parent group focused on acceptance of autism and feelings related to parenting. The program consisted of nine weekly 1.5-hour sessions with an additional session nine weeks after program completion.
To evaluate the program, researchers administered assessments to youth addressing behavior, emotional regulation and mindfulness while the parents were evaluated on measures of mental health and mindfulness. These measurements were preformed four times, 10 weeks prior to the program, 1 week prior to the program, 1 week after the program ended, and 10 weeks after the program ended.
What did the researchers find?
Results were positive, but not across the board. Researchers found a majority of youth and parents (89% and 79%, respectively) believed that the quality of life and relationship had at least somewhat improved due to the program, and most participants indicated they were more able to manage stress and negative emotions at least to some degree. Parents also reported improvements in overall autism symptoms and social motivation of their child, which was maintained at post-program follow-up.
However some intervention benefits were not demonstrated at the follow up assessment. While some temporary improvements regressed to insignificant levels at the ten week follow-up, other areas appeared to be unchanged by the intervention. In line with previous research, youth did not demonstrate changes in mindfulness from the intervention. More research needs to be done regarding how best to assess and impact mindfulness for individuals with autism. However, it is noted that the intervention was a positive experience for participants, with demonstrated improvement in emotional regulation and adaptive skills as well as parental mindfulness.
How can you use this research?
Mindfulness may offer important support to individual and caregivers. With further evaluation, programs like MYmind may become more available for families seeking support.
About the Researchers
Sandra Salem-Guirgis is an assistant professor in the School of Health & Wellness, George Brown College in Toronto, Canada. Carly Albaum is a doctoral student in the Department of Philosophy, York University in Toronto, Canada. Paula Tablon is a lab coordinator in the Developmental Disabilities and Mental Health lab, York University in Toronto, Canada. Dr. Priscilla Burnham Riosa (PhD, BCBA-D) is an assistant professor in the Department of Applied Disability Studies, Brock University in St. Catharines, Canada. Dr. David B. Nicholas (PhD, RSW) is a professor in the Faculty of Social Work, Central and Northern Alberta Region, University of Calgary in Edmonton, Canada. Dr. Irene E. Drmic (PhD, C. Psych) is a psychologist at the Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre, Hamilton Health Sciences in Hamilton, Canada. Dr. Jonathan A. Weiss (PhD, C. Psych) is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, York University in Toronto Canada.
Salem-Guirgis, S., Albaum, C., Tablon, P., Riosa, P. B., Nicholas, D. B., Drmic, I. E., & Weiss, J. A. (2019). MYmind: A concurrent group-based mindfulness intervention for youth with autism and their parents. Mindfulness, 10(9), 1730-1743.
This summary was written by Trevor Buttery, Research Assistant, Vocational Abilities Innovation Lab, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary.