Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 24, Issue 10, pp 3093–3106 | Cite as

Cultivating Mind: Mindfulness Interventions for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Problem Behaviours, and Their Mothers

  • Yoon-Suk HwangEmail author
  • Patrick Kearney
  • Helen Klieve
  • Wayne Lang
  • Jacqueline Roberts
Original Paper


Problem behaviours in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are a major source of parenting stress, as they restrict family capacity to maintain quality domestic and social life. It is therefore critical to support parents to manage the problem behaviours of their child with ASD. Recent mindfulness intervention studies have successfully addressed this issue. The current pilot study pursues this line of enquiry and extends the scope of mindfulness intervention by training parents to become a mindfulness teacher of their own child with ASD and problem behaviours, so together they can work on enhancing the quality of their domestic and social life. A total of six dyads of mothers (CA range 34–48 years) and children with ASD and problem behaviours (CA range 8–15 years) participated in a two-stage mindfulness intervention. Mothers attended an 8-week mindfulness program to attain fluency in the theory and practice of mindfulness meditation (Stage 1). Based on this fluency they then taught mindfulness activities to their child (Stage 2). This paper reports on the effects of the mindfulness intervention provided for mothers (Stage 1) and children (Stage 2) as demonstrated by the level of mindfulness, parenting stress, and family quality of life for mothers, and problem behaviours for children. The results highlight overall improvements in the targeted areas. Some benefits, issues, and challenges of mindfulness training for parents and their children with ASD are discussed.


Mindfulness Autism spectrum disorder Parent Attention training Problem behaviours 


  1. Achenbach, T. M., & Rescorla, L. A. (2001). Manual for the ASEBA school-age forms & profiles. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont, Research Center for Children, Youth, & Families.Google Scholar
  2. Altmaier, E., & Maloney, R. (2007). An initial evaluation of a mindful parenting program. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 63, 1231–1238.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.Google Scholar
  4. Analayo, S. (2003). The direct path to realization. Birmingham: Windhorse Publications.Google Scholar
  5. Bearss, K., Lecavalier, L., Minshawl, N., Johnson, C., Smith, T., Handen, B., & Scahill, L. (2013). Toward an exportable parent training program for disruptive behaviours in autism spectrum disorder. Neuropsychiatry, 3(2), 169–180.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Beer, M., Ward, L., & Moar, K. (2013). The relationship between mindful parenting and distress in parents of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Mindfulness, 4, 102–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Benn, R., Akiva, T., Arel, S., & Roeser, R. (2012). Mindfulness training effects for parents and educators of children with special needs. Developmental Psychology, 48, 1476–1487.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Benson, P. (2010). Coping, distress, and well-being in mothers of children with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4, 217–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Berry, J. D., & Jones, W. H. (1995). The parental stress scale: Initial psychometric evidence. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 12, 463–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Blackledge, J. T., & Hayes, S. C. (2006). Using acceptance and commitment training in the support of parents of children diagnosed with autism. Child & Family Behaviour Therapy, 28(1), 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bluth, K., Roberson, P., Billen, R., & Sams, J. (2013). A stress model for couples parenting children with autism spectrum disorders and the introduction of a Mindfulness intervention. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 5, 194–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bodhi, B. (2000). The connected discourses of Buddha: A translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications.Google Scholar
  13. Bodhi, B. (2012). What does mindfulness really mean? A canonical perspective. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 19–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bögels, S., Hellemans, J., van Deursen, S., Römer, M., & van der Meulen, R. (2013). Mindful parenting in mental health care: Effects on parental and child psychology, parental stress, parenting, coparenting, and marital functioning. Mindfulness. doi: 10.1007/s12671-013-0209-7.Google Scholar
  15. Bögels, S., Lehtonen, A., & Restifo, K. (2010). Mindful Parenting in mental health care. Mindfulness, 1, 107–120.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Boucher, J. (2009). The autistic spectrum: Characteristics, causes and practical issues. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  17. Brookman-Frazee, L. (2004). Using parent/clinician partnerships in parent education programs for children with autism. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 6, 195–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Charman, T., & Howlin, P. (2003). Research into early intervention for children with autism and related disorders: Methodological and design issues. Autism, 7, 217–225.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Coatsworth, D., Duncan, L., Greenberg, M., & Nix, R. (2010). Changing parent’s mindfulness, child management skills and relationship quality with their youth: Results from a randomized pilot intervention trial. Journal of Child Family Studies, 19, 203–217.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Coolican, J., Smith, I. M., & Bryson, S. E. (2010). Brief parent training in pivotal response treatment for preschoolers with autism. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51, 1321–1330.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Dumas, J. (2005). Mindfulness-based parent training: Strategies to lessen the grip of automaticity in families with disruptive children. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 34, 779–791.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Duncan, L., Coatsworth, D., & Greenberg, M. (2009). A model of mindful parenting: Implications for parent-child relationships and prevention research. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 12, 255–270.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Eisenhower, A. S., Baker, B. L., & Blacher, J. (2005). Preschool children with intellectual disability: Syndrome specificity, behavior problems, and maternal well-being. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 49, 657–671.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Estes, A., Munson, J., Dawson, G., Koehler, E., Zhou, X., & Abbott, R. (2009). Parenting stress and psychological functioning among mothers of preschool children with autism and developmental delay. Autism, 13, 375–387.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Ferraioli, S., & Harris, S. (2013). Comparative effects of mindfulness and skills-based parent training programs for parents of children with autism: Feasibility and preliminary outcome data. Mindfulness, 4, 89–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gethin, R. M. L. (2001). The Buddhist path to awakening: A study of the bodhi-pakkhiyā-dhammā. Oxford: Oneworld Publications.Google Scholar
  27. Goldin, R. L., Matson, J. L., Tureck, K., Cervantes, P. E., & Jang, J. (2013). A comparison of tantrum behavior profiles in children with ASD, ADHD and comorbid ASD and ADHD. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34(9), 2669–2675.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Grossman, P. (2010). Mindfulness for Psychologists: Paying kind attention to the perceptible. Mindfulness, 1, 87–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gunaratana, H. (1985). The path of serenity and insight. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.Google Scholar
  30. Harper, A., Dyches, T. T., Harper, J., Roper, S. O., & South, M. (2013). Respite care, marital quality, and stress in parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. doi: 10.1007/s10803-013-1812-0.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Heflin, L. J., & Alaimo, D. F. (2006). Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Effective instructional practices. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.Google Scholar
  32. Hoffman, L., Marquis, J. G., Poston, D. J., Summers, J. A., & Turnbull, A. (2006). Assessing family outcomes: Psychometric evaluation of the family quality of life scale. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 1069–1083.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hwang, Y.-S., & Kearney, P. (2014). Mindful and mutual care for individuals with developmental disabilities: A systematic literature review. Journal of Child Family Studies, 23(3), 497–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hwang, Y.-S., Klieve, H., Kearney, P., & Saggers, B. (2013). Experience, recursive awareness and understanding in autism spectrum disorders: Insights of parents and teachers in Singapore. Asia Pacific Journal of Education. doi: 10.1080/02188791.2013.860013.Google Scholar
  35. Hwang, Y.-S., & Kearney, P. (Manuscript in preparation). A mindfulness intervention for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: New directions in research and practice. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  36. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 144–156.Google Scholar
  37. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2011). Some reflections on the origins of MBSR, skillful means, and the trouble with maps. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 281–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A. O., Kristeller, J., Peterson, L. G., Fletcher, K. E., Pbert, L., & Santorelli, S. F. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 49(7), 936–943.Google Scholar
  39. Kuan, T.-F. (2008). Mindfulness in early buddhism: New approaches through psychology and textual analysis of Pali, Chinese and Sanskrit sources. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Lee, L.-C., Harrington, R. A., Louie, B. B., & Newschaffer, C. (2008). Children with autism: Quality of life and parental concerns. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38, 1147–1160.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Lucyshyn, J., Albin, R., Horner, R. H., Mann, J., & Wadsworth, G. (2007). Family implementation of positive behavior support for a child with autism: Longitudinal, single-case, experimental, and descriptive replication and extension. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 9, 131–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Ma, S. H., & Teasdale, J. D. (2004). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: Replication and exploration of differential relapse prevention effects. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72(1), 31–40.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. MacDonald, E. E., & Hastings, R. P. (2008). Mindful parenting and care involvement of fathers of children with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Child Family Studies. doi: 10.1007/s10826-008-9243-9.Google Scholar
  44. Matson, M., Mahan, S., & Matson, J. (2009). Parent training: A review of methods for children with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 3, 868–875.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. McCown, D., Reibel, D., & Micozzi, M. S. (2011). Teaching minduflness: A practical guide for clinicians and educators. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  46. McGill, P., Papachristoforou, E., & Cooper, V. (2006). Support for family carers of children and young people with developmental disabilities and challenging behaviour. Child: Care, Health and Development, 32(2), 159–165.Google Scholar
  47. McGrath, A. (2013). Links between the conduct of carers and clients’ challenging behaviour. Learning Disability Practice, 16(6), 30–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Neece, C. (2013). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for parents of young children with developmental delays: Implications for parental mental health and child behaviour problems. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities. doi: 10.1111/jar.12064.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Neece, C., Green, S., & Baker, B. (2012). Parenting stress and child behavior problems: A transactional relationship across time. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 117, 48–66.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Oono, I., Honey, E., & McConachie, H. (2013). Early intervention delivered by parents for young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009774.pub2.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Oord, S., van der Bögels, S., & Peijnenburg, D. (2012). The effectiveness of mindfulness training for children with ADHD and mindful parenting for their parents. Journal of Child Family Studies, 21, 139–147.CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Russell, J. (2011). Mindfulness: A tool for parents and children with Asperger’s Syndrome. Mindfulness, 2, 212–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Silva, L., & Schalock, M. (2012). Autism parenting stress index: Initial psychometric evidence. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42, 566–574.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Siman-Tov, A., & Kaniel, S. (2011). Stress and personal resource as predictors of the adjustment of parents to autistic children: A multivariate model. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 879–890.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Manikam, R., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, A. N. A., Singh, J., & Singh, A. D. A. (2011a). A mindfulness-based strategy for self-management of aggressive behaviour in adolescents with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5, 1153–1158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Singh, A. D. A., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, A. N. A., & Singh, J. (2011b). Adolescents with Asperger Syndrome can use a mindfulness-based strategy to control their aggressive behaviour. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5, 1103–1109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Fisher, B. C., Wahler, R. G., McAleavey, K., & SaBaawi, M. (2006). Mindful parenting decreases aggression, noncompliance, and self-injury in children with autism. Journal of Emotional and Behavioural Disorders, 14(3), 169–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Karazsia, B. T., Myers, R. E., Latham, L. I., & Singh, J. (2014). Mindfulness-based positive behavior support (MBPBS) for mothers of adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Effects on adolescents’ behavior and parental stress. Mindfulness. doi: 10.1007/s12671-014-0321-3.PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J., Curtis, W. J., Wahler, R. G., & McAleavey, K. M. (2007). Mindful parenting decreases aggression and increases social behaviour in children with developmental disabilities. Behaviour Modification, 31, 749–771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Smith, S. W., Daunic, A. P., & Taylor, G. G. (2007). Treatment fidelity in applied educational research: Expanding the adoption and application of measures to ensure evidence-based practice. Education and treatment of children, 30(4), 121–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Walach, H., Buchheld, N., Buttenmuller, V., Kleinknecht, N., & Schmidt, S. (2006). Measuring mindfulness—the Freiburg mindfulness inventory (FMI). Personality and Individual Differences, 40, 1543–1555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Weiss, J. A., & Lunsky, Y. (2011). The brief family distress scale: A measure of crisis in caregivers of individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Child Family Studies, 20, 521–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yoon-Suk Hwang
    • 1
    Email author
  • Patrick Kearney
    • 2
  • Helen Klieve
    • 1
  • Wayne Lang
    • 1
  • Jacqueline Roberts
    • 1
  1. 1.Griffith Institute for Educational ResearchGriffith UniversityMt GravattAustralia
  2. 2.Independent Mindfulness TeacherBrisbaneAustralia

Personalised recommendations