Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Great national attention has been afforded to the development of effective treatment approaches for individuals with autism. However, a void lies in the support for the parents and guardians of individuals with autism. The psychological and emotional implications for a parent that raises a child with autism, from diagnosis to long-term care, are profound and have detrimental effects. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an avenue of treatment that differs from traditional approaches. The aim of ACT is to modify the way in which the individuals interact with their language as opposed to changing that language and psychological processes that accompany it. Experiment 1 sought to examine the effects of a two-day, four-hour intensive ACT-based training utilizing the components of ACT vs. that of a Control Group. Participants were matched to the ACT Group or the Control Group, based on BDI-II and AAQ-II scores. In addition to the self-report measures, Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) was assessed at pre-scheduled times throughout the course of the experiment for participants that consented to provide it. Results of Experiment 1 were indicative of statistically significant differences with respect to a number of dependent measures both within and across subjects. Visual analysis of Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) measures between the two experimental groups denotes small-moderate physiological changes within those parents exposed to the ACT training. These results indicate the introduction of ACT training for parents served to impact psychological flexibility and decrease experiential avoidance, as well as improve physiological responding in the presence of aversive stimuli. In order to compare a mindfulness-based training approach to a full ACT model, we utilized a probe design imbedded in a non-concurrent additive multiple baseline design (A-B-BC) in Experiment 2 with three parents of individuals with autism. Training phases included the mindfulness processes of the ACT model (B) and the full ACT model (BC) involving both mindfulness and behavior-change processes. Similar to Experiment 1, parents provided GSR at various times over the course of Experiment 2. We saw moderate changes on self-report measures or GSR with the implementation of the Mindfulness Only Phase of the MBD, and in some cases, reports of psychological flexibility and experiential avoidance got worse. The introduction of the ACT Phase served to increase psychological flexibility and decrease experiential avoidance for 2 of 3 participants for each of the self-report measures. Additionally during the ACT Phase, participants' GSR output showed physiological improvements, increased psychological flexibility, and decreased experiential avoidance in the presence of aversive stimuli beyond those improvements of the Mindfulness Only Phase. Previous research has investigated the efficacy of an ACT-based training in which the total training contact hours fall in the double digits. Results of the current study showed that only 4 hours of ACT-based training served to facilitate psychological flexibility and decrease experiential avoidance, as well as positively impact physiological responses to aversive stimuli in most participants. Additionally, we saw a greater influence on psychological flexibility and experiential avoidance with the introduction of the full ACT model as compared to the Mindfulness-Only training, suggesting the importance of the inclusion of behavior-change processes (i.e., committed action and values) to a training for parents of individuals with autism.
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