Meditation can help special-needs parents

A study says teaching parents strategies such as meditation significantly reduces stress, depression and anxiety.
A first-of-its kind study focuses on the parents of kids with special-needs. The thought of providing life-long care to a child brings on many stresses from financial to emotional.

Now researchers say having a stress relief tool at your disposal may give all parents the grounding they need.

Getting centered is one of Marianne Kehler's strengths. At age two, her 18-year-old son Liam was diagnosed with a severe form of autism. For years, she needed to protect Liam from himself.

"Many households of individuals with autism can be like a warzone," Marianne said. "He would self-injure. As a consequence, others around him would also get injured."

Marianne says a mindfulness practice helped her and her son stay grounded.

"So by doing meditation, the environment was calmer and allowed to Liam to be much more calm," Marianne said.

Now, a new study in the Journal of Pediatrics finds teaching parents, like Marianne, strategies such as meditation significantly reduces stress, depression and anxiety.

About 250 parents took a four month course in breathing exercises, Tai-Chi style movements and mindfulness-based stress reduction.

Autism Speaks helped support the study. Executive Director Matt Asner says more focus needs to be on caregivers.

"Parents get forgotten all the time and parents are guilty about forgetting themselves so it's important for a parent to understand that in order for their children to be happy and healthy, they need to be happy and healthy," Asner said.

People who've meditated for decades will tell you the cumulative beneficial effects come with regular practice. So when you're facing a crisis and you need to get centered it will help you rise to the occasion much faster.

"Even if you just do 60 seconds, it's really fine," Marianne said.

Beginners can build from there. Marianne says meditation was key to her son's development.

Today he's a chef with many friends. It's a success they share together.

"When we take care of ourselves, it gives us more energy and the ability to care for others and love others the way that they would like to," Marianne said.

Marianne says you don't have to do anything fancy to get started, just plant your feet and listen to your breath.

In the study, parents who did meditation saw the most improvements in stress level. It also led to fewer dysfunctional parent child interactions.

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