A diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can impact the entire family. Parents of children with ASD reportedly have greater stress levels, family conflict, financial concerns, and poor health habits than parents of neurotypical (NT) children. While many parent-focused interventions have been developed, these interventions focus on parent training and child behavior outcomes rather than the health and well-being of the parents. Therefore, this study aimed to examine the effects of a 15-week family judo program on physical and psychosocial health in parents of children with ASD. A total of 18 parents of children with ASD participated in a weekly judo program, with each session lasting 45 minutes. Parents completed online surveys that asked about sociodemographic information and parental stress and wore wrist accelerometers that measured their physical activity and sleep quality. Paired samples t-tests were used to examine parental stress, physical activity, and sleep quality differences in parents of children with ASD pre- and post-judo program. Both a decrease in parental stress (47.77 vs. 41.61, p

High-stress levels can also negatively impact physical health and have been linked to poor sleep and low physical activity levels. This is particularly concerning as research suggests that parents of children with neurodevelopmental disorders already report worse sleep quality and lower levels of physical activity than parents of NT children. Furthermore, the treatment of sleep disorders in children with ASD has been related to reductions in parental stress. Additionally, child engagement in health behaviors has been correlated with parent behaviors. The majority of these studies, however, have utilized self-report measures of sleep and physical activity, which are prone to bias. Furthermore, while there are several components that make up sleep quality, the majority of studies have primarily focused on sleep duration rather than other aspects of sleep, such as sleep efficiency.

Parental stress can also spill over into the parent-child relationship, resulting in diminished communication quality and decreased optimism about the future. Furthermore, evidence suggests a bidirectional relationship exists between parent/caregiver stress and child ASD symptoms. In other words, increased stress levels of the parent/caregiver may exacerbate the child's ASD symptoms, further worsening parent/caregiver stress. The immediate need for interventions to ease parents' stress and improve the quality of life for both parents and children is apparent.

Physical activity has been deemed an intervention to reduce stress and is associated with improved well-being and mental health for both neurotypical and ASD populations. Several studies have demonstrated the benefits of physical activity interventions incorporating mind-body interaction, such as yoga or martial arts, for children with ASD. Martial arts training, such as judo, benefits participants and their families by encompassing mindfulness, balance, strength, and coordination, emphasizing social interaction.

Despite the increasing prevalence of ASD, the reported stress on families of children with ASD, and the negative effects of parent stress on both parents and their children with ASD, there are no studies that have examined the benefits of a family-based, mind-body physical activity program on stress and health behaviors in parents of children with ASD. The current study will address this gap by examining the effects of a family judo intervention on parent stress and sleep patterns of parents of children with ASD. There is a significant decrease in parent-reported stress post-judo program. Parents also have increased levels of physical activity. Finally, we see parents reporting decreased stress and improved self-confidence with their children during the semi-structured interviews at the end of the program. These findings may be used to explore further whether a family judo program may lead to better parent and family outcomes, such as increased parental efficacy, improved parent-child bonding, and strengthened family resiliency.

Thesis Completion




Thesis Chair/Advisor

Garcia, Jeanette


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


College of Health Professions and Sciences


Health Sciences



Access Status

Open Access

Release Date