Parental training helps autistic children with behavioural problems

Parental training helps autistic children with behavioural problems

By Liz Lockhart

It is not uncommon for the parents of children with autism with and without behavioural problems to feel helpless at times.  A new study suggests that parents who are trained to deal with this disorder, combined with the correct medication, help the child to manage their everyday life.

The study was conducted by researchers from Yale and the results are published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Lawrence Scahill of Yale University School of Nursing and the Child Study Centre said, ‘Serious behavioural problems interfere with everyday living for children and their families.  Decreasing these serious behavioural problems results in children who are more able to manage everyday living.’

The participants in this study were 124 children with autism spectrum disorders.  They were aged between 4 and 13 and were assessed by Scahill and his team at three different United States sites – Ohio State University, Indiana University and Yale.  All the children in this study had serious behavioural problems such as prolonged tantrums, self-injurious behaviour, multiple tantrums and/or aggression, every day.

The children were randomly split into two groups.  The first group was given medication alone over a period of six months.  The other group was given medication combined with a training programme for their parents for six months.

To undertake this training, the parents made regular visits to a clinic to learn how to respond to the behavioural problems.  They were taught how to help their children to adapt to daily living situations.  All of the children in the study were given a medication called ‘risperidone’ which is approved for use as a treatment of serious behavioural problems in autistic children.

Scahill said ‘In a previous report from this trial, we showed that the combined treatment was superior to medication alone in reducing the serious behavioural problems.  In the current report, we show that combination treatment was better than medication alone on measures of adaptive behaviour.’

‘We note that both groups, medication alone and combined treatment group, demonstrated improvement in functional communication and social interaction.  But the combined group showed greater improvement on several measures of everyday adaptive functioning,’ Scahill added.

As a result of what Scahill and his team found, they will now be conducting a study which uses parent training alone to treat younger children with autism spectrum disorders.  The study is already under way at four medical centres across the U.S.  They also intend to publish a parent training manual in order to share this intervention with others.


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