MYmind: Mindfulness Training for Adolescents with ASD and Their Parents

What's this project about?

Previous research has shown that mindfulness not only helps to improve attention and focus, but can also be effective in reducing stress, increasing control over negative feelings and improving quality of life. The current project is MYmind: a mindfulness-training program designed for adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their parents. Originally developed and tested by Dr. Susan Bogels in the Netherlands, MYmind will allow families to experience the benefits of mindfulness meditation and cognitive therapy techniques while learning to relate to one another in a new way.

How will we go about doing this research?

The program consists of nine 1.5 hour group therapy sessions at Geneva Centre for Autism. Parent and adolescent group sessions are run at the same time, however, the two groups meet separately. Adolescent sessions are made up of approximately 5 teens at a time, a therapist and a graduate student facilitator. Parent sessions also include a therapist and graduate student facilitator; one or both parents may participate.

During each of the 1.5 hour sessions, adolescents will learn a number of breathing meditations, mindfulness exercises and yoga. Parent sessions consist of breathing meditations, mindfulness exercises and yoga. Between sessions, adolescents and parents are to practice the skills they’ve learned from the previous week on a daily basis.

Prior to the start of mindfulness training, participants will come to Geneva Centre on four separate occasions to complete screening and baseline research assessments. During the course of the training, both parents and adolescents will be asked to complete a short online survey at the beginning of each week. After completing the training, each family will complete two additional research assessments: one immediately following the end of the program, and one 10 weeks later.

Participating families may get personal benefit in the form of more positive family interactions, less conflict, reduction in problem behaviours, and reduction in stress. Adolescents will also receive a $20 gift card as a thank you for their time spent completing questionnaires in connection with this study at the end of the project.

Who can be involved?

Adolescents between 13-22 years of age with a previous diagnosis of high-functioning ASD may participate along with one or both of their parents. Potential participants must have at least average intellectual functioning and verbal skills. Participants must be able to participate in a group setting with other adolescents with ASD and their parents.

What will we do with our research findings?

The aim of the research portion of MYmind is to evaluate the effectiveness of the nine-week intervention program and the results of this study will expand our understanding of the effectiveness of mindfulness training in reducing stress and increasing control over negative feelings for adolescents with ASD. In addition, this study will enable us to gain a better understanding of mindfulness as a tool to improve the quality of the relationships between adolescents with ASD and their parents. We will write an article summarizing our findings to submit to an academic journal, present the results at national and international conferences, and create a brief summary of our findings to post on this website.

What is the next step?

The project began in the fall of 2014 with our first group of 10 adolescents and their parents.

The initial screening process for the 2016-2017 group will take place during the summer of 2016, and families will be asked to attend a Mindfulness Orientation at the Geneva Centre for Autism on either July 13 OR 20, 2016. At this orientation, families will meet with a research and one of the clinicians leading the project, who will explain more about the therapy, give them a chance to complete research questionnaires, and make sure the kind of group we are running is a good fit for everyone.

Families that are eligible to participate will begin the mindfulness training in January 2017, which will run until March 2017 (January 18, 25; February 1, 8, 15, 22; March 1, 8, 15), and will take part in a tenth "booster" session in May 2017 (May 17).

To help us learn more about the effectiveness of the program, we will ask families to fill out questionnaires and other research measures at five different times (August 24, 2016; November 2, 2016; January 11, 2017; March 22, 2017; May 24, 2017). As well, they will be asked to complete a 2-minute online questionnaire each week from the beginning of August until the end of May.

Want to know more about this project?

For more information please feel free to contact Dr. Jonathan Weiss, Principal Investigator on the study, at jonweiss@yorku.ca, or Dr. Sandra Salem-Guirgis, Project Coordinator, at sfsalem@yorku.ca.

Download and share the study flyer (PDF).

This project is supported by NeuroDevNet. Additional funding is provided by the Chair in Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment and Care Research.