Group Training for Autism Treatments

Autism treatment may be more accessible if parents can train as a group

(RxWiki News) Pivotal Response Therapy (PRT) is a treatment that is given by parents and schools for children with autism. The parents must learn how to use the therapy, and learning it could be costly.

Early results from a trial show that PRT may be effective when parents are taught the program in groups.  Training in groups will reduce the cost of learning the intervention.

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A recent study, led by M.B. Minjarez, PhD, at the Seattle Children’s Hospital, looked at the use of group training of PRT for parents of 26 children with autism, aged 2 to 6 years old. They compared the parents learning PRT to parents who were given educational courses about autism.

PRT is an evidenced-based treatment that is implemented in home or school to take advantage of the child’s natural environment. It focuses on core aspects of autism, like social interaction and self-management.

PRT aims to increase motivation for learning in the child.

Supporters of PRT find it to be very effective at increasing verbal ability in children with autism, improving social function and improving school outcomes. Parents are trained in the method to ensure that it is implemented into daily life.

Minjarez and colleagues measured the changes in language ability after 12 weeks in the children with autism. The children of parents who learned PRT spoke more after the 12 weeks, measured as the number of utterances from the child.

Over the 12 weeks, the children whose parents learned PRT also showed improvement on two tests of communication skills.  Children of parents in educational courses did not show improvement on these measures of communication.

The study is ongoing, so these are preliminary results from the trial. However, the researchers concluded that these findings are promising – parents taught in a group setting can deliver PRT effectively.

Teaching parents in groups will be more cost-effective.  If the final results of the trial are in line with these early findings, more parents with PRT may be able to access this treatment option.

dailyRx spoke with Glen Elliot, MD, PhD, a child psychiatrist. He said, “The utility of PRT for helping parents work better with children with autism is reasonably well studied, so the main question addressed is whether it can be done in a group setting, making it potentially more cost effective.”   

“The additional apparent benefits of creating a de facto parent support group during the training seems like a particular bonus.”

This study was presented at the International Meeting on Autism Research in Toronto, Canada, May 17-19. T.W. Frazier, an author on the study, reports financial affiliations with Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Shire and Integragen.

The study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, which means other scientists may not have had a chance to review the methods and data to ensure it passes their quality standards.

Review Date: 
May 23, 2012