Training parents how to effectively interact with their severely autistic children has for the first time shown to improve the behaviors of the kids over the long term. The researchers found that the novel form of therapy was able to help moderate the behavior of children who might usually grow up to be severely autistic, unresponsive, or not able to communicate.
The therapy is based on a fairly simple concept. Rather than getting the child to interact with a trained therapist, the researchers decided to see if training the parents instead would make a difference. First of all, the parents were filmed interacting and playing with their autistic children, before then sitting down with a trained professional to look over how they did.
This allowed the parents and the therapist to review easily missed moments where the child may have been indicating that they wanted to play or communicate, which can be hard to pick up on in real time. This meant that the parents could then be taught the skills of how to spot these behaviors, and then the correct response. For example, giving the child the appropriate time to communicate is essential, while at the same time not questioning the child as this can add undue pressure on them.
“This type of early intervention is distinctive in being designed to work with parents to help improve parent-child communication at home,” explained Professor Jonathan Green, who led the study published in The Lancet. “The advantage of this approach over a direct therapist-child intervention is that it has potential to affect the everyday life of the child. Our findings are encouraging, as they represent an improvement in the core symptoms of autism previously thought very resistant to change.”