Research team looking for parents of children living with autism

Mindfulness is on the rise for people seeking a more fulfilling life, especially for those facing challenging circumstances.

Brock University master’s student Jean Phan and her supervisor Priscilla Burnham Riosa, Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Disability Studies, want to know if mindfulness will help parents of children with autism better cope with non-compliant behaviours.

To that end, Phan is looking for a few families with children aged three to 11 to participate in a study that will assess if and how taking a mindfulness approach to parenting will enhance parent-child interactions.

She is using a commercial mindfulness application, Headspace, to do so.

Brock University master’s student Jean Phan.

Phan says research participants will receive a free year’s subscription to the digital tool, which has a variety of learning modules.

“We’re hoping parents will learn the basics of what mindfulness is,” she says. “The program is fast-paced and covers many areas.”

Each module takes three minutes and can be easily integrated into daily routines, says Phan, adding that daily use of the app would “allow parents to practise what they learn so that mindfulness becomes a skill they can apply to different parenting situations.”

Riosa says the study commitment extends from about one to three months. Families eligible to participate in the research project will fill out questionnaires, participate in a mindfulness education session and learn how to use the app.

Throughout the study, parents and their children will video record their interactions with one another, which Phan and Riosa will analyze.

“We’re hypothesizing that parents will report lower levels of stress, higher quality in their parent-child interactions, and that we will see from the videos improvements in their interactions,” says Phan.

Priscilla Burnham Riosa, Associate Professor in Brock’s Department of Applied Disability Studies.

She says mindfulness involves parents developing a wide range of skills, including recognizing their children’s facial expressions and body language; accepting themselves and their children non-judgmentally; making a conscious choice about how to respond to their children; engaging in self-regulatory behaviours; and developing skills that demonstrate compassion for themselves and the children.

In past studies, mindfulness has been shown to reduce parenting stress and burnout, and improve overall parent-child interactions, says Phan.

Past studies have also revealed the ‘bi-directional’ relation between parent and child behaviour, says Riosa. A child’s misbehaviour may elicit a negative response from the parent, which in turn may be met by more upset from the child, potentially escalating the conflict.

Riosa says she and Phan hope the app’s lessons and their implementation to parenting a child on the spectrum will make a difference for families.

“The stress levels of parents with kids on the autism spectrum are incredibly high and chronic, so this is something that merits further empirical attention,” she says. “If three minutes a day positively impacts the parent-child relationship, then it’s a huge win.”

For more information or to become involved with the study, contact Phan at or Riosa at

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