How Training Could Help Parents of Kids with Autism

Children with autism may show improvements in behavior after parents undergo training course

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Parents of kids with autism may want to opt for a parental training course to help them manage their child's behavior.

A new study found that a parent training program was more effective than education in reducing disruptive behavior in kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Dr. Lawrence Scahill, PhD, of the Department of Pediatrics at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University, led this study.

"The current study is ... the first large-scale randomized trial designed to test the efficacy of parent training for young children with ASD and disruptive behavioral problems," Dr. Scahill and team wrote.

Crystal Beadle, PhD, a licensed neuropsychologist at Our Children's House at Baylor in Frisco, TX, told dailyRx News that "an intensive behavior program can be initiated easily for any family who is interested. Many counselors and psychologists are available ... to work alongside parents in a one-on-one collaboration as behavior coaches to address their child’s specific needs and teach them specific techniques and parenting strategies to manage problem behaviors."

Dr. Beadle continued, "By far, one of the best places to find effective resources is through local parent support groups. The groups themselves are invaluable resources for ideas and advice for handling specific behaviors. Additionally, the parents who make up the support group have often had experiences with local providers and programs, and can offer more personalized suggestions based on their relationship and knowledge of the individual child. School districts are often also a good source for information within the community and surrounding area as well."

Dr. Scahill and team looked at 180 children with ASD. These children were between ages 3 and 7. Parents of the children were randomly selected to receive either parent training or education.

ASD is a developmental disorder that affects kids' ability to interact and communicate with others.

Parents in the training group were taught strategies to manage disruptive behavior. Training involved 16 weeks of core sessions, home visits and parent-child coaching. One home visit and two phone sessions were conducted during eight weeks of follow-up.

Parents in the education group were only given information about children with ASD and current treatment options.

Behavior in the children was scored by three outcome measures every four weeks during the trial. Scores were also taken every 12 weeks after training or education. Parents scored their own kids in measures for disruptive and disobedient behavior.

Kids in the training group showed a 48 percent decline in scores in a measure of disruptive behavior, Dr. Scahill and team found. The education group showed a 32 percent decline in scores.

In a measure of noncompliant behavior in kids, the training group showed a 55 percent decline in scores. The education group showed a 34 percent decline.

An independent evaluator blinded to group assignments rated the kids on their improvement. In the training group, 69 percent of kids showed overall improvement in behavior. Only 40 percent of kids showed improvement in the education group, Dr. Scahill and team found.

Dr. Scahill and team said parent training in behavior management of kids with ASD should become more common.

"The results of this study provide empirical support for wider implementation of this structured, relatively brief parent training intervention for young children with ASD," Dr. Scahill and team wrote.

In an editorial about this study, Bryan H. King, MD, of the University of Washington in Seattle, said education may still be beneficial.

"Although specific behavioral training was superior, both groups reported considerable improvement over baseline, suggesting that even regular intensive education about autism provided value to parents and translated to perceived behavioral improvements in their children," Dr. King wrote.

The study and editorial were published April 21 in JAMA.

Grants and awards from the National Institutes of Health funded this research. Several authors received research contracts or consulted with or served on an advisory board of medical companies.

Review Date: 
April 20, 2015
Last Updated:
April 28, 2015