Self-care linked to greater confidence in parents of children with FASD

mother and child walking through a field during sunset.A Rochester study is the first to describe caregiver strategies for self-care and the obstacles and barriers parents face in raising children struggling with developmental, cognitive, and behavioral problems associated with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. (Unsplash photo / S&B Vonlanthen)

Children diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD)—caused by prenatal alcohol exposure—often face lifelong developmental, cognitive and behavioral problems. Without the right support they are at high risk of mental health disorders and other life problems. Affecting around 2 to 5 percent of school-aged children in the United States, FASD is a major public health problem.

But children with FASD are not the only ones who struggle; often their parents and caretakers do, too. What can make the job of parenting a child with the disorder especially hard is the general lack of awareness surrounding FASD, and the dearth of available resources and specialists.

Unsurprisingly, these barriers contribute to the already high stress levels that go hand-in-hand with parenting a child with disabilities. Stress, of course, can have a direct bearing on family cohesion, as well as the caregivers’ mental and physical health. That’s why, according to experts, self-care for parents is a critical resource.

A new study by a team of University of Rochester researchers, published in the journal Research in Developmental Disabilities, examines how FASD caregivers’ perceived confidence in and the frequency of self-care is related to stress, parenting attitudes, and family needs.

“We know that parents who are stressed tend to feel less effective and less satisfied as a parent,” says lead author Carson Kautz, a graduate student in the Rochester Department of Psychology.

Carson is working on interventions to reduce the adverse outcomes for children with developmental disabilities, particularly FASD, together with her faculty mentor and recognized FASD expert Christie Petrenko, an assistant professor and research associate at the University’s Mt. Hope Family Center. Petrenko is a co-author of the study, as is Jennifer Parr, a graduate student at the University’s Warner School of Education and a project coordinator and therapist at Mt. Hope Family Center.

“Of course, stress reduction is important for all parents,” acknowledges Parr, “but it’s especially critical in caregivers of children with special needs, given that we know of their already high stress levels.”

Most-used strategies for self-care

bar chart lists the percentages of parents who reported using each self-care strategy. Quiet time (yoga, time in nature, prayer) is at 73 percent. Physical health (exercise, walking, sleeping better, health eating) is at 67 percent. Social support (spending time with friends, joining a support group, talking to a counselor) is at 54 percent. Hobbies (reading, gardening, cooking) is at 39 percent. Small luxuries (getting pedicures, taking a bath, eating chocolate) is at 28 percent. Media (listing to music, watching TV or movies) is at 19 percent. And information (doing research, seeking information online, attending seminars) is at 6 percent.

Source: University of Rochester researchers

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The opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Edmonton and area Fetal Alcohol Network Society, its stakeholders or funders.

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