Autism Study: Training Parents Works

State and federal funding for early intervention can help children with autism, but researchers have grappled with which Early Social Interaction (ESI) programs are effective and efficient. Training parents to offer the therapy is clearly more cost effective than having clinicians do it, according to researchers at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL and at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. The team found that parents can be trained to be effective, particularly if the instruction they get is individual, rather than in a group setting.

Autism Study: Training Parents Works

State and federal funding for early intervention can help children with autism, but researchers have grappled with which Early Social Interaction (ESI) programs are effective and efficient.

Training parents to offer the therapy is clearly more cost effective than having clinicians do it, according to researchers at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL and at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. The team found that parents can be trained to be effective, particularly if the instruction they get is individual, rather than in a group setting.

The team compared the outcomes for children whose parents participating in two intervention programs. The group was comprised of 82 children with autism spectrum disorder. The children were diagnosed between 16 months and 20 months of age, following the latest recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Most children are not diagnosed until age 4.

The ESI programs each lasted 9 months. The study reported on results over 7 years.

Both programs trained parents to offer ESI therapy. In one In one program, parents were trained 2 or 3 times a week at home or in a community setting. In the other program, children got therapy from a clinician once a week in a clinic.

The children’s progress was measured in terms of social communication, autism symptoms, adaptive behavior, and developmental level.

At the end of the programs, the children whose parents got individual ESI training did better on social communication, as well as daily living and social skills. “Whereas group ESI led to worsening or no significant change on these skills,” the team reported in Pediatrics.

Children in both groups improved, but the results were better when parents were trained individually.

The training taught family members to work with the children 20 to 25 hours a week, at home in family activities and chores. The participants also learned how to take children to a playground, grocery store, or other community setting and put what they had learned to use.

The team hopes to further their work by beginning interventions with children as young as 12 months.