Purpose: Parents often experience moderate to severe levels of stress due to the challenges of raising a child with special needs. Previous research has proven that excessive parental stress negatively impacts both the parent and child’s health. However, few organizations have been identified which offer intervention programs focusing directly on decreasing parental stress. This pilot study investigates the effectiveness of a 6-week online mindfulness-based course in reducing stress experienced by parents of children with special needs. Method: A pre-test, post-test pilot design, as well as a participatory action approach, were employed to determine the impact of the online mindfulness-based course in reducing perceived stress experienced by parents of children with special needs. Eleven parents participated in the pilot study. The course was facilitated by an occupational therapist (the first author) trained and experienced in mindfulness practices and a parent of two children with special needs. The Depression Anxiety Stress Scale - Stress subscale (DASS-SS), The Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), The Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire-15 (FFMQ-15), and author-generated measures were administered pre- and post-intervention to determine changes in perceived stress levels, as well as, the impact and application of mindfulness practices. Results: The DASS-SS measuring the parents’ perceived stress level revealed a 30% mean reduction in stress when comparing pre-and post-intervention scores. The PSS revealed a 21% mean reduction in perceived stress score post-intervention. The FFMQ-15 (used to measure changes in the integration of mindfulness practices into the parent’s daily routine) indicated a 4% increase in the groups’ mindfulness practices comparing pre- and post-intervention scores. Responses to the author-generated measure revealed that 82% of parents believed they could better handle challenging situations post-intervention; 100% of the parents agreed that the course made them more mindful of their thoughts. Conclusion: Results indicate that an introductory online mindfulness-based parenting program can be an effective intervention for reducing the stress experienced by parents of children with special needs.

Author Bio(s)

Elizabeth J. Shaffer OTD, OTR/L, is a U.S. board-certified occupational therapist. She is also the founder of Therapeutic Innovations International, LLC, an organization that supports families and children around the world.

Jennifer E. Lape, OTD, OTR/L is an Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is a licensed occupational therapist in the state of Pennsylvania.

Joyce Salls, OTD, OTR/L, Professor and Director of Occupational Therapy at Chatham University, has 30+ years’ experience as an OT practitioner. Dr. Salls has presented nationally and internationally on topics related to pediatrics and educational practices. Her research interests and publications are in areas of program outcomes and school-based services.




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