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Helping mothers of children with autism

A recent study examined the effect of a relationship-based intervention on stress levels of mothers of children with autism

Autism affects a child’s developmental skills and their ability to interact with others, including their parents. Parents of children with autism experience high levels of stress and depression. A new study from Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, looked at the effects of a relationship-based intervention on levels of stress and depression in mothers of children with autism.

The study was carried out in Saudi Arabia where there are “not a lot of services for young children with disabilities”, explains Gerald Mahoney, the author of the study and the Verna Houck Motto Professor of Families and Communities and Associate Dean of Research and Training at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Social Applied Sciences. The authors of the study “wanted to examine the effects of this low-cost intervention strategy that focused on improving the quality of parents’ involvement with their children and evaluate the effects of this intervention on both children and their parents.”

The study involved 28 pre-school aged children with autism. For four months, the children and their parents met weekly with researchers to receive a relationship-based intervention called responsive teaching. The focus was to improve the parents’ relationship skills with their children, as opposed to teaching developmental skills to the children. The findings were published in the International Journal of Disability, Development and Education.

By the end of the study, the number of parents having clinical stress reduced from 100% of parents at the start of the study to 30%. The percentage of parents having clinical depression also decreased, from 70% to 15%. In addition, the children of parents receiving responsiveness training made significant improvements in their developmental skills, including social skills, language development, and fine motor skills.

Mahoney said “parent involvement is a major focus of early intervention services in the United States and elsewhere,” and that “parents of children in Saudi Arabia are generally not involved in intervention services there.” So, it made sense to do the study there. The author discussed that their research into clinical stress and depression levels of mothers of children with autism showed that a relationship-based interventional approach worked, and “although this was a small sample size, we can say that this research was quite successful.”

Written by Nicola Cribb MA VetMB DVSc DipACVS


Alquraina T, Al-Odaib A, et al. Relationship-based intervention with young children with autism in Saudi Arabia: Impediments and consequences of parenting stress and depression. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education. Volume 66, 2019. Issue 3.

Eurekalert! Study finds lower stress, depression levels in mothers of children with autism. Last accessed August 2, 2019.

Image by shanghaistoneman from Pixabay

Nicola Cribb
Nicola Cribb
Nicola obtained her Veterinary and Master’s degrees from the University of Cambridge, UK, and Doctor of Veterinary Science from the University of Guelph, Canada. She is board-certified in surgery and has research interests in minimally-invasive surgery. She has worked in a clinical setting, as well as research and teaching disciplines for the past 16 years at the University of Guelph, where she is currently Adjunct Faculty. She is a freelance medical writer and reviews, authors, and co-authors publications and reviews in scientific journals and books.


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