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How Mindfulness Helps Caregivers More Than Positive Psychology

When success is “The first time I have not cried all the way to the mailbox…”

Mixed media illustration including buddha and tiger

Illustration Credit: Mindful by Erica Harris

“When you have a child with a disability the worry is twofold: managing the issues in the moment—and what the future will bring, ” explains Karen Pilkerton, who knows these worries personally. Her oldest daughter, Ali, has Down syndrome. Caring for a developmentally disabled child, like any parenting experience, is filled with joyful moments and unexpected challenges. But parents of the developmentally disabled, unlike other parents, never stop being caretakers, even when their children are grown. For Pilkerton, mindfulness was the perspective-changing experience that allowed her to renegotiate her role. The benefits of mindfulness for physical and mental health have been well documented, but much less is known about whether it is helpful to caretakers, especially parents of developmentally disabled children (e.g., children with autism or Down Syndrome). Professor Elisabeth Dykens, director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center at Vanderbilt University, and colleagues attempted to study this overlooked population. Dr. Dykens says that there are many techniques she could have chosen to help parents but …

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