Date Approved

6-25-2012

Date Posted

8-18-2013

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Committee Member

James Todd, Ph.D., Chair

Committee Member

Tamara Loverich, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Renee Lajiness-O’Neill, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Thomas Schmitt, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lori Warner, Ph.D.

Abstract

Parents of children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder face significant stressors and challenges; however, little research has investigated ways to effectively address their psychological distress and adjustment issues. This study used a between-subject and withinsubject repeated measures design to test the effects of an 8-week Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) or treatment as usual (TAU) group. Treatment completers included 13 mothers in the ACT condition and 4 mothers in TAU. They were assessed three weeks before the intervention, one week after, and three months post-intervention. Limited data for between-group comparison demonstrated only a significant difference on the frequency scale of the Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire (ATQ), in which frequency of automatic thoughts increased for mothers in the TAU condition. For mothers in the ACT condition only, repeated measures ANOVAs revealed significant decreases from baseline to post-intervention on the Parental Distress Index of the Parental Stress Index-Short Form. Baseline to post-intervention decreases were seen for the GSI of the Brief Symptom Inventory-18 (BSI-18), with some regression to baseline at follow-up but overall reductions maintained. Similar significant findings were also demonstrated with increases in the Positive Aspects of Caregiving and decreases in the ATQ total score and the believability scale.

No statistically significant changes were seen on the Depression Index of BSI-18, the Acceptance and Action Questionnaire II, or the Five Facets of Mindfulness Questionnaire. In exploratory analysis, experiential avoidance correlated positively with multiple scales of a selfadministered measure of executive functioning, including a measure of one’s ability to shift attention rapidly. Additionally, mothers who reported significantly greater levels of externalizing problem behaviors also reported significantly higher degrees of parental distress. This research suggests that an ACT-based treatment delivered in group format may be of assistance in helping parents better adjust to the difficulties in raising children with autism.

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