Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) for Family Caregivers of Neurodiverse Individuals

By Teunisje Gruber and Judy Glass

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an evidence-based intervention to help alleviate a variety of difficult life issues. Inspired by research on how ACT can help parents of autistic children, Yona Lunsky, Kenneth Fung, and Mateusz Zurowski started facilitating ACT workshops for caregivers. Dr. Fung is a psychiatrist and a parent of a son on the autism spectrum. His ability to relate to the participants’ struggles became a powerful element of the workshops, and his experience led to including caregivers in the training, enabling them to co-facilitate the ACT Caregiver Workshops with a clinician. The research to date demonstrates that participants of ACT workshops experience fewer symptoms of depression and stress and improved physical health.
Six core processes inform ACT: watch your thoughts, open up, be here now, self-awareness, know what matters, and do what it takes. ACT teaches that the human mind is normally evaluative, critical, and judgemental. This can lead to unhelpful beliefs and behaviours. ACT instructs people how to notice their thinking and this, in turn, results in unhelpful thoughts having less power over them.  Participants come to accept difficult or unwanted thoughts, feelings and situations that they cannot control. Parents and other caregivers often get caught up in future worries, past regrets, and blaming themselves or others. They may carry out daily tasks in a rote manner without really paying attention to or enjoying what they are doing. ACT teaches how to enjoy the moment and to treasure children for who they are. ACT helps caregivers to have compassion for others and themselves. At the same time, it coaches participants in identifying what they truly care about and to take action in the service of those values.
An ACT workshop is a safe place where caregivers can share their stories and learn how to turn some attention back on their own self-care. It is common for a natural bond and trust to occur in the workshop because the facilitators share the lived experience of having an autistic child.

“Parents of children diagnosed with a developmental disability… [are] ever striving to meet the needs of our children, which doesn’t leave much time to just be – to celebrate, to cherish, and to enjoy our children, just as they are. Fears for the future and demands of the day seem like constant robbers of the moment. This workshop was an opportunity for me to turn some attention back to myself to ’care for the caregiver’ so I could hopefully get to a healthier place, a place that would honour both my children and me” (Lee Steel, parent and ACT co-facilitator).

In 2019, two Sinneave employees (authors) received training in ACT.  They will be co-facilitating two ACT workshops this spring. “Caring for the Caregiver: ACT” is a five session workshop that starts on April 28, 2021. For individuals who are unable to attend this workshop series, there will be an overview of ACT on May 13th, 2021 at 6:30 pm. Both sessions take place on a video conference. For more information please visit:
Fung, K., Wong, J., Steel, L., Lake, Bryce, K., & Lunsky, Y. (2019). Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) for family caregivers of people with developmental disabilities: Training manual.  Toronto, ON: The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

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