Parent Training Program Can Improve Child Behavior in Autism

This article originally appeared here.
Child Behavior in Autism
Child Behavior in Autism

(HealthDay News) — Training programs for parents can help improve the behavior of children with autism, according to a study published in the April 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, a theme issue on child health.

The researchers randomly assigned 89 parents to receive parent training and 91 parents to receive education on autism. The parents all had a child between ages 3–7 who had an autism spectrum disorder. Both programs lasted six months and included approximately 12 in-person sessions and one or two home visits. But, the education program did not teach behavior management strategies. Before and after the programs, parents rated how disruptive or non-compliant their child was on two rating scales. A drop of at least 25% on each was considered meaningful improvement.

The researchers found that disruptive behavior of children whose parents received training declined 47.7% on one measure, compared to a 31.8% drop among children whose parents received education. On the other scale, scores were 55.0% lower for parent training and 34.2% lower for parent education. A clinician who didn't know which program each child's parents attended also rated the children's improvement. That improvement was 68.5% for the parent training group and 39.6% for the parent education group. The improvements lasted for at least 48 weeks.

The parent training program was built on the ABC model, study author Lawrence Scahill, MSN, PhD, a professor of pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, told HealthDay. "A" represents the antecedent, the situation or event that comes before "B," the child's behavior. "C" is the consequence, the parent's response. "We teach parents to identify the antecedent, which is key to understanding what's driving the behavior," Scahill said. "The parental response may inadvertently reinforce the maladaptive behavior." He provided the following example: if a child has a major tantrum when the parent asks him or her to get dressed and the parent gives in and dresses the child, that response reinforces that the tantrum worked.

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