Skip to main content

Interventions for Parents of People with Intellectual Disabilities


Parents of children with intellectual disabilities (ID) consistently report higher levels of parenting stress than parents of typically developing children, which has psychological and physical consequences for both the parent and child. Further, high levels of parenting stress are often associated with poor outcomes in behavioral interventions for children with ID. Thus, parental stress and mental health concerns in general are critical targets for intervention. Nevertheless, there are few evidence-based treatments aimed at reducing stress in parents of children with ID. Parent-led support groups are the most common type of intervention for these parents; however, little empirical evidence is available to support the efficacy of these interventions. Other evidence-based interventions include mindfulness, cognitive-behavior therapy, respite, and behavioral parent training interventions. We argue for a combined intervention model that addresses both parental stress and child behavior problems directly in order to optimize outcomes for children with ID and their families.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    Baker BL, McIntyre LL, Blacher J, Crnic K, Edelbrock C, Low C. Preschool children with and without developmental delay: behavior problems and parenting stress over time. J Intellect Disabil Res. 2003;47:217–30. Special Issue.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Hauser-Cram P, Warfield ME, Shonkoff JP, Krauss MW. Children with disabilities: a longitudinal study of child development and parent well-being. Monogr Soc Res Child Dev. 2001;66(3):1–131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Davis NO, Carter AS. Parenting stress in mothers and fathers of toddlers with autism spectrum disorders: associations with child characteristics. J Autism Dev Disord. 2008;38(7):1278–91.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Seltzer MM, Greenberg JS, Hong J, Smith LE, Almeida DM, Coe C, et al. Maternal cortisol levels and behavior problems in adolescents and adults with ASD. J Autism Dev Disord. 2010;40(4):457–69.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Heim C, Ehlert U, Hellhammer DH. The potential role of hypocortisolism in the pathophysiology of stress-related bodily disorders. Psychoneuroendricrinology. 2000;25(1):1–35.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Hastings RP, Daley D, Burns C, Beck A. Maternal distress and expressed emotion: cross-sectional and longitudinal relationships with behavior problems of children with intellectual disabilities. Am J Ment Retard. 2006;111:48–61.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Kersh J, Hedvat TT, Hauser-Cram P, Warfield ME. The contribution of marital quality of the well-being of parents of children with developmental disabilities. J Intellect Disabil Res. 2006;50:883–93.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Eisenhower AS, Baker BL, Blacher J. Children’s delayed development and behavior problems: impact on mothers’ perceived physical health across early childhood. Soc Sci Med. 2009;68(1):89–99.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Crnic KA, Gaze C, Hoffman C. Cumulative parenting stress across the preschool period: relations to maternal parenting and child behaviour at age 5. Infant Child Dev. 2005;14(2):117–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Neece CL, Green SA, Baker BL. Parenting stress and child behavior problems: a transactional relationship across time. Am J Intellect Dev Disabil. 2012;117(1):48–66.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Guralnick M, Neville B, Connor R, Hammond M. Family factors associated with the peer social competence of young children with mild delays. Am J Ment Retard. 2003;108(4):272–87.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Neece C, Baker B. Predicting maternal parenting stress in middle childhood: the roles of child intellectual status, behaviour problems and social skills. J Intellect Disabil Res. 2008;52(12):1114–28.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Baker BL, Neece CL, Fenning RM, Crnic KA, Blacher J. Mental disorders in five-year-old children with or without developmental delay: focus on ADHD. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2010;39(4):492–505.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    McIntyre LL. Parent training to reduce challenging behavior in children and adults with developmental disabilities. In: Hastings RP, Rojahn J, editors. International review of research in developmental disabilities: Challenging behavior. San Diego: Academic Press/Elsevier; 2013. p. 245–80.

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Hastings RP, Beck A. Practitioner review: stress intervention for parents of children with intellectual disabilities. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2004;45(8):1338–49.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Davidson B, Dosser DA. A support system for families with developmentally disabled infants. Fam Relat. 1982;31:295–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Singer GHS, Marquis J, Powers LK, Blanchard L, Divenere N, Santelli B, et al. A multi-site evaluation of parent to parent programs for parents of children with disabilities. J Early Interv. 1999;22:217–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Butler AC, Chapman JE, Forman EM, Beck AT. The empirical status of cognitive-behavioral therapy: a review of meta-analyses. Clin Psychol Rev. 2006;26:17–31.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Pavuluri MN, Graczyk PA, Henry DB, Carbray JA, Heidenreich J, Miklowitz DJ. Child-and family-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy for pediatric bipolar disorder: development and preliminary results. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2004;43(5):528–37.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Dykens EM, Fisher MH, Taylor JL, Lambert W, Miodrag N. Reducing distress in mothers of children with autism and other disabilities: a randomized trial. Pediatrics. 2014;134(2):e454–63.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Bazzano A, Wolfe C, Zylowska L, Wang S, Schuster E, Barrett C, et al. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for parents and caregivers of individuals with developmental disabilities: a community-based approach. J Child Fam Stud. 2013;24(2):1–11.

    Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Neece CL. Mindfulness-based stress reduction for parents of young children with developmental delays: implications for parental mental health and child behavior problems. J Appl Res Intellect Disab. 2014;27(2):174–86.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Kabat-Zinn J. Full catastrophe living: the program of the stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. New York: Delta; 1990.

    Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Carlson LE, Speca M, Faris P, Patel KD. One year pre–post intervention follow-up of psychological, immune, endocrine and blood pressure outcomes of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) in breast and prostate cancer outpatients. Brain Behav Immun. 2007;21(8):1038–49.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Carmody J, Baer RA. How long does a mindfulness‐based stress reduction program need to be? A review of class contact hours and effect sizes for psychological distress. J Clin Psychol. 2009;65(6):627–38.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Chan JB, Sigafoos J. Does respite care reduce parental stress in families with developmentally disabled children? Child Youth Care Forum. 2001;30(5):253–63.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Cowen PS, Reed DA. Effects of respite care for children with developmental disabilities: evaluation of an intervention for at risk families. Public Health Nurs. 2002;19(4):272–83.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Hoare P, Harris M, Jackson P, Kerley S. A community survey of children with severe intellectual disability and their families: psychological adjustment, carer distress and the effect of respite care. J Intellect Disabil Res. 1998;42(3):218–27.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Donenberg G, Baker BL. The impact of young children with externalizing behaviors on their families. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 1993;21(2):179–98.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Floyd FJ, Harter KSM, Costigan CL, MacLean Jr WE. Family problem-solving with children who have mental retardation. Am J Ment Retard. 2004;109:507–24.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    McIntyre LL. Adapting Webster-Stratton’s Incredible Years Parent Training for children with developmental delay: findings from a treatment group only study. J Intellect Disabil Res. 2008;52:1176–92.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    McIntyre LL. Parent training in young children with developmental disabilities: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Ment Retard. 2008;113:356–68.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Eyberg SM, Nelson MM, Boggs SR. Evidenced-based psychosocial treatments for children and adolescents with disruptive behavior. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2008;37:215–37.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Kaminski JW, Valle LA, Filene JH, Boyle CL. A meta-analytic review of components associated with parent training program effectiveness. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2008;36(4):567–89.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Webster-Stratton C. The incredible years: parents, teachers, and children training series. Leader’s guide. Seattle, WA. Author. 2001.

  36. 36.

    Plant KM, Sanders MR. Reducing problem behavior during care-giving in families of preschool-aged children with developmental disabilities. Res Dev Disabil. 2007;28:362–85.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Bagner DM, Sheinkopf SJ, Vohr BR, Lester BM. Parenting intervention for externalizing behavior problems in children born premature: an initial examination. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2010;31:209–16.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Hudson AM, Matthews JM, Gavidia-Payne ST, Cameron CA, Mildon RL, Radler GA, et al. Evaluation of an intervention system for parents of children with intellectual disability and challenging behavior. J Intellect Disabil Res. 2003;47:238–49.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Aman MG, McDougle CJ, Scahill L, Handen B, Aronold LE, Johnson C, et al. Medication and parent training in children with pervasive developmental disorders and serious behavior problems: results from a randomized clinical trial. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2009;48:1143–54.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Singer GH, Ethridge BL, Aldana SI. Primary and secondary effects of parenting and stress management interventions for parents of children with developmental disabilities: a meta-analysis. Mental Retardation Dev Disabil Res Rev. 2007;13:357–69.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Fidler DJ, Hodapp RM, Dykens EM. Stress in Families of Young Children with Down Syndrome, Williams Syndrome, and Smith-Magenis Syndrome. Early Educ Dev. 2000;11(4):395–406.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Douma JC, Dekker MC, Koot HM. Supporting parents of youths with intellectual disabilities and psychopathology. J Intellect Disabil Res. 2006;50(Pt8):570–81.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Baker BL, Landen SJ, Kashima KJ. Effects of parent training on families of children with mental retardation: increased burden or generalized benefit? Am J Mental Defic. 1991;96:127–36.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Brinker RP, Seifer R, Sameroff AJ. Relations among maternal stress, cognitive development, and early intervention in middle-and low-SES infants with developmental disabilities. Am J Ment Retard. 1994;98(4):463–80.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Osborne LA, McHugh L, Saunders J, Reed P. Parenting stress reduces the effectiveness of early teaching interventions for autistic spectrum disorders. J Autism Dev Disord. 2008;38(6):1092–103.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Robbins FR, Dunlap G, Plienis AJ. Family characteristics, family training, and the progress of young children with autism. J Early Interv. 1991;15(2):173–84.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Strauss K, Vicari S, Valeri G, D’Elia L, Arima S, Fava L. Parent inclusion in early intensive behavioral intervention: the influence of parental stress, parent treatment fidelity and parent-mediated generalization of behavior targets on child outcomes. Res Dev Disabil. 2012;33(2):688–703.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Cameron L. Neece.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

Cameron L. Neece and Evan J. Lima declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

Additional information

This article is part of the Topical Collection on Intellectual Disability

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Neece, C.L., Lima, E.J. Interventions for Parents of People with Intellectual Disabilities. Curr Dev Disord Rep 3, 124–128 (2016).

Download citation


  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Developmental disorders
  • Parenting stress
  • Children with ID
  • Review