A randomized controlled trial has demonstrated for the first time that toddlers with autism can improve their life and social skills significantly with intensive, creative interventions performed by parents rather than by clinicians, according to research published in Pediatrics.
Led by Florida State University researchers, the seven-year study followed families of 82 toddlers with autism, who were assigned to one of two nine-month interventions. The researchers trained the parents either individually or in groups to utilize special communication techniques with their children during daily life. The individual training sessions were the most effective.
“With our specialized methodology, we taught families to work with their children 20 to 25 hours a week in their everyday activities — not only play but also meals and snacks, caregiving, family chores — and taught them how to bring their children into that activity. We also taught them how to go out in the community, how to take the child to a playground, to a grocery store, to a restaurant, and use these strategies,” said lead author Amy Wetherby, director of the Autism Institute at Florida State University’s College of Medicine, in a press release. “We tried to help parents make interactions fun and fruitful learning moments. But we also taught the parents how to push their child — because their child has autism, and we are finding these children at this very critical moment when their brain is more able to learn. If the parent can start early, then we are more likely to change the child’s trajectory of learning for the rest of their life.”
“We’ve come up with a treatment model that can teach parents to support their child’s learning during everyday activities, and we’ve documented that the children improved their developmental level, social communication skills and autism symptoms,” said Wetherby. Social communication includes eye gaze, facial expressions, gestures, sounds, sharing of emotion, listening, learning to understand words, discovering how to use objects — things that children with autism have difficulty learning.” Wetherby added that the program seemed to be cost-effective, because it did not require much involvement of trained clinicians.
Study finds parent intervention is best for helping toddlers with autism (Florida State University Press Release, November 3, 2014)
(Abstract) Parent-Implemented Social Intervention for Toddlers With Autism: An RCT (Wetherby, Amy M. et al. Published online November 3, 2014. doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-0757)