Moms of Autistic Kids May Ease Stress by Journaling

Journal writing may be an effective way for moms of autistic children to lower their stress levels and improve their relationship with their child, according to a new paper published in the Journal for Autism and Developmental Disorders.

“If people can really comprehend what’s happening to them, if they find meaning in it and find tools for managing it, they are healthy and resilient,” said associate professor Dr. Rondalyn V. Whitney, author of the paper and director and founding chair of the occupational therapy program at Clarkson University in New York State.

“Journal writing is one of their tools in their toolkit, and it helps them find meaningful coping strategies.”

Moms of children with autism can get burned out because if there is no one there to help them, they can’t get out of the house to participate in any interventions for themselves, said Whitney. She compares the situation to the oxygen mask advisory on airplanes: Mothers need to help themselves first before they can help others.

“High maternal stress causes paternal stress, and high maternal stress decreases the child’s ability to benefit from treatment,” she said.

As a result, Whitney wanted to provide an intervention that is available to mothers where they often already are — online. As she observed moms of autistic children relay their feelings into an online journal, Whitney found that it decreased their stress levels and also encouraged an improvement in the mom-child relationship.

Whitney said the journal gives mothers a safe place to talk about any negative feelings they may have without having an impact on the child, helping them reframe their problems, and work toward finding solutions.

“There was a shift in what the mothers attributed the stress to,” she said. “Instead of saying, ‘My stress is due to being a mother,’ it shifts to, ‘I have a stressful life.'”

Whitney said the journal-writing sessions were designed to focus on emotional disclosure through the act of writing itself, and so the participants did not receive feedback on what they had written. The next step in her research will be a quantitative analysis of common themes in the moms’ journals.

Whether or not mothers perceive they have support is a big factor in their stress levels, Whitney said.

Some scenarios that can lead to a mother feeling isolated include the following: the father being unavailable, the mother feeling unappreciated, the mother feeling estranged from her family due to the child’s behavior, the mother being unable to socialize with friends, or the mother feeling that no one else can keep her child safe.

“The mothers really love these children, but they feel alone in that understanding of their child,” Whitney says.

Source: Clarkson University