Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, and poor overall well-being, particularly when their child engages in challenging behavior, (e.g., aggression, self-injury, property destruction). Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which encourages psychological flexibility and attending to the present moment, is an effective intervention for addressing well-being in parents of children with ASD when presented in various formats. Virtual group ACT can increase accessibility and improve social connectedness for parents. However, recent literature suggests that the time commitment may impact parents’ participation in interventions focused on their well-being. The current study will examine parents’ participation in and perceived acceptability of 6 hours of virtual ACT groups when administered in three different formats: a 6-hour workshop, three 2-hour sessions, and six 1-hour sessions. Participants will include 36 parents of children with ASD and co- occurring challenging behavior randomized across nine groups (i.e., three groups of four participants per format). All participants will attend a virtual intake interview, receive 6 hours of ACT group intervention, and participate in two virtual individualized parent training sessions to learn and practice behavioral intervention techniques when faced with treatment challenges. Primary outcomes of feasibility and acceptability include parent participation and acceptability ratings. Secondary outcomes include change in psychological flexibility and well-being after participating in ACT groups and procedural fidelity when implementing the behavioral intervention. Findings can inform future research examining virtual ACT groups for parents delivered in conjunction with their child’s behavioral services by exploring which format may lead to higher parental engagement in an intervention to improve their well-being, which can ultimately improve outcomes for both parents and children.
What are the goals of the study?
By directly assessing parents of children with ASD’s format preferences and perspectives on how parental support activities could increase engagement, we can better inform future iterations of the virtual ACT group intervention to best meet the needs of this population. Incorporating community voices into the development of interventions is associated with increased engagement and overall benefit; therefore, it is critical to assess the perspectives of parents of children with autism on components of parental support activities designed for them.
What will happen during the visit or online?
Participants will be asked to participate in a virtual intake interview (~1 hour), 6 hours of the virtual ACT group intervention, and 2 hours of virtual parent training to support parents in addressing their child’s challenging behavior. Participants will be asked to identify another adult to assist with the virtual parent training sessions.
How will this help families?
In addition to directly addressing parent participants’ well-being and providing parents with individualized behavioral intervention strategies, outcomes have significant practical implications for mediating positive treatment outcomes for children with autism and co-occurring challenging behavior. Given that children are part of a family system and are affected by the functioning of that system, it is critical to address the well-being of family members when attempting to improve outcomes for autistic children. Further, challenging behavior and parental stress often have a bi-directional relationship, such that increased parental stress can also increase the frequency and intensity of challenging behavior. Thus, even if the child’s challenging behavior is reduced in behavioral treatment, high parental stress may decrease the treatment’s effectiveness. Though parents of children with autism tend to have significantly higher stress levels than parents of typically developing children, few intervention programs for children with autism specifically address parental well- being. As such, outcomes of this study addressing parental well-being through a virtual group ACT intervention can increase practitioners’ knowledge of the importance of addressing parental well-being as part of a child’s behavioral treatment to improve outcomes for both the child and the overall family system.