Marital Therapy for Couples at Risk with One or More Children Diagnosed with Autism

Grant Winners

  • Manny Gonzalez-Abreu, Ph.D. – Mailman Segal Center for Human Development
  • Tommie Boyd, Ph.D. – Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Brian Freedman, Ph.D. – Mailman Segal Center for Human Development

Dean

  • Wendy Masi – Mailman Segal Center for Human Development

Abstract

Award Winners

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder which affects as many as 1 in 150 children. The communication and social skill deficits which characterize children with autism present great difficulties for their families. Parents of children with autism typically have greater parenting-related stress and a decrease in marital satisfaction. Despite increased funding for interventions for children with autism, there is still limited support for parents. Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) focuses on the resolution of problems through small and large changes, while using the family as its own frame of reference. This approach would be particularly helpful for parents of children with autism, since they experience uniquely difficult family circumstances. SFBT has been shown to be effective with a variety of populations, but has yet to be assessed with this population. In this study, a 10-week couples' therapy model will be evaluated against a control group to determine the effects of treatment on parenting-related stress and marital satisfaction for parents of children with autism. Parents of children enrolled at the Baudhuin Preschool, a publicly-funded preschool for children with autism located at the Mailman Segal Institute for Early Childhood Studies at Nova Southeastern University, will be offered the treatment for free. This experimental group will be compared against a waiting list control group. Treatment will be conducted by doctoral students in the Marriage and Family Therapy program at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS) at Nova Southeastern University. Comparisons between the two groups will determine whether couples' therapy is effective in reducing parenting-related stress and increasing marital satisfaction. In addition to the valuable information gained from this study regarding parents of children with autism, this study will serve as a pilot project aimed at beginning a collaborative research relationship between faculty from two colleges within Nova Southeastern University.