Behavior therapy for kids with autism can have an impact that goes far beyond the child, new research suggests, with parents who play an active role in treatment seeing major gains as well.

After participating in cognitive behavior therapy with their kids on the spectrum, moms and dads saw improvement in their own levels of depression, emotion regulation and they were able to engage in mindful parenting, according to findings published online this month in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

“The research showed that parents improved their abilities to handle their own emotions and to see themselves in a more positive light,” said Jonathan Weiss of York University in Toronto who worked on the study. “It helped them to become more aware of their parenting and all of the good they do as parents.”

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For the study, researchers followed the parents of 57 kids with autism ages 8 to 12 who participated in therapy sessions with their son or daughter where they served as co-therapists alongside a professional.

Parents completed surveys before and after the treatment, which were then compared to responses from moms and dads who had not taken part.

“Most of the time when parents bring in their kids for cognitive behavior therapy, they are in a separate room learning what their children are doing, and are not being co-therapists,” Weiss said. “What’s unique about what we studied is what happens when parents are partners in the process from start to finish. Increasingly we know that it’s helpful for kids with autism, specifically, and now we have proven that it’s helpful for their parents too.”

Though the findings are considered preliminary, Weiss indicated that the results highlight how important it is for health care providers to include parents in their treatment of children with autism.

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