The RUBI Autism Network

Parent training can reduce serious behavioral problems in young children with autism

A multi-site study sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) finds young children with autism spectrum disorder and serious behavioral problems respond positively to a 24-week structured parent training. The benefits of parent training endured for up to six months post intervention.

Published in the April 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association the study found parent training was more effective in reducing disruptive and aggressive behavior than 24 weeks of parent education. Parent training provided parents with specific strategies on how to manage serious behavioral problems such as tantrums, aggression, self-injury and noncompliance in children with autism spectrum disorder. Parent education offered useful information on autism — but did not provide guidance on how to manage serious behavioral problems.

The lead author, Karen Bearss, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Marcus Autism Center and Emory University School of Medicine remarked, “It’s striking that children in both groups improved, but on measures of disruptive and noncompliant behavior, parent training was clearly better.”

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a chronic condition beginning in early childhood defined by impaired social communication and repetitive behavior. The disorder affects 0.6 to 1 percent of children worldwide. In young children, ASD is often complicated by serious behavioral problems such as tantrums, aggression, self-injury and severe noncompliance in response to routine environmental demands. These disruptive behaviors can be overwhelming for parents and foster profound uncertainty on how to handle these problems. There are approved medications for these disruptive behavioral problems, but parents of young children with ASD are often reluctant to use medication.

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