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BYU researchers find children with autism benefit from at-home parent interventions

By Ashtyn Asay - | Sep 8, 2022

Courtesy Nate Edwards, BYU

A new study from Brigham Young University has found that at-home interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder can lead to better outcomes over the course of their lifetime.

The study, published last month in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, found that when parents were educated on how to provide at-home interventions for their children, and combined those interventions with professional clinical treatment, their children saw improved social, language and communication skills compared to children who did not receive at-home interventions.

Before her time at BYU, Tina Taylor, associate dean of the David O. McKay School of Education and study co-author, worked with children with ASD and saw this phenomenon first-hand.

“When the parents were involved in helping out either in the school or at home, we could see huge increases in the social skills, the communication skills, a lot fewer maladaptive or challenging behaviors,” she said. “So this is something we’ve known for a very long time, but a lot of the research that has been done has not been really up to high standards.”

In order to get their findings, the BYU researchers conducted a meta-analysis of over 50 studies that used only randomized control trials to examine the effects of parent-led interventions.

“In total, the studies included 2,895 child participants with an average age of five and a half. On average, parents received about 90 minutes of intervention training each week,” reads a release from BYU. “Impact on child development was measured using direct observation by a professional as well as parent and observer ratings. No differences were observed when the mother, father, or both implemented interventions.”

During intervention training, parents learn how to teach their children social and language skills along with daily life skills such as dressing and hygiene practices — and they also learn more about autism itself.

“I think that this is very crucial for parents with children with autism because if they don’t know about the background and basics of autism, it’s hard for them to care for their children,” said Linda Cheng, the lead author of the paper and doctoral student at the David O. McKay School of Education.

Although professional clinical treatment is a powerful tool for helping children with autism, parental intervention can help to fill treatment gaps.

“It is just a way to empower parents to help children with autism as early as possible because we see that waiting time for them to get into intervention is just really long,” Cheng said.

Researchers hope their findings can be a tool for lawmakers to introduce legislation that would make parent training a benefit covered by insurance.

“In Utah, applied behavior analysis is covered. And often with ABA, there’s a strong parental component, but we can’t say that every parent has access to ABA therapy,” Taylor said. “Access is a huge issue, whether you’re in a state whether it’s covered or not, we need more access.”

BYU counseling psychology professor and study co-author Timothy Smith added that, although the cost of educating parents to provide parent-led interventions to students might be high, it pales when compared to the long-term cost of social, education and welfare programs used to help take care of adults with disabilities.

“It makes a lifetime of difference, it’s not just an immediate difference, those effects multiply over time,” Smith said. “Literally everything about the child changes if they receive interventions early, so that has child implications, it has family implications, it has community implications, it has educational implications.”

Overall, Smith and his fellow researchers hope their research can empower parents of children with ASD.

“Parents with kids with disabilities are really looking for hope, and what this research does is absolutely provide that yeah, their actions totally make a difference,” he said. “Parents can feel empowered, valued, appreciated, and optimistic about the future of their children and their families.”

For parents searching for ASD resources, Taylor recommends the Utah Parent Center, an organization that provides information, peer support, training and advocacy to parents of children with disabilities, based on the concept of parents helping parents. More information on the Utah Parent Center can be found at https://utahparentcenter.org.


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