Project Area: This project examined whether 'Benefit Finding' can relieve the psychological distress of caregivers of children with autism.
Lead Researcher: Dr Mark Wetherell
Institution: Northumbria University
Parents of children with autism typically experience high levels of psychological distress and infrequent respite from their caregiver role, allowing them little time to participate in research despite their willingness.
Previous research had observed improvements in the psychological well-being of other carer groups following a Benefit Finding intervention - a written intervention involving a focus on the positive experiences associated with a stressful situation.
This study set out to assess whether it has potential to provide an adaptable and cost-effective stress-reducing intervention for parent carers of children with autism.
Caregivers who had high levels of distress at the beginning of the project and who used the 'Finding Benefit' intervention had normal levels of distress at the end of the project.
This indicates that at home-based written benefit finding exercise might be an effective intervention for alleviating caregiver related distress.
However, several carers reported difficulties completing the benefit finding exercise, finding it extremely difficult to find positive experiences to report. This finding is noteworthy, underscoring the importance of identifying techniques that could enhance caregivers' engagement with the writing exercise.
In terms of physiological outcomes, writing conditions were comparable on basal stress hormone (cortisol) and immune system (CRP) functioning across the follow up period. However, the small size of the sample might have precluded the observation of statistically meaningful effects, and given the observed feasibility of the protocol, these null findings should be considered preliminary until substantiated with a larger sample.
In conclusion, writing expressively about the benefits of caring for a child with autism/ADHD can be applied as a home based intervention, and is associated with a clinically meaningful improvement in caregivers' psychological wellbeing. However, further work is needed to find ways of adapting this intervention to increase its effectiveness among carers of children with autism.
Where it took place: School of Life Sciences, Northumbria University
Who was eligible?: Caregivers of children with autism.