Children with autism often display challenging behaviors, but new research suggests that parents can learn to better handle tantrums and aggression, which may improve their child’s overall functioning.
“Parent training is one of the best, evidence-supported treatment interventions in child psychiatry for other conditions, such as for children with ADHD or children with oppositional defiant disorder,” said senior study author Lawrence Scahill, a professor at Yale University School of Nursing and Child Study Center in New Haven, Conn.
The study involved 124 children aged 4 to 13 with an autism spectrum disorder and serious behavioral issues, including daily, prolonged tantrums, aggression or self-injurious behavior. The children were prescribed risperidone (Risperdal), an antipsychotic drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating severe behavioral problems in children with autism.
Half the children and their parents were also assigned to a six-month, structured “parent training” program. Parents were asked to identify the most difficult, disruptive behaviors and to think about what preceded the incidents and why the child might do it. They then worked with counselors to devise strategies to avoid the triggers and help the child respond better to the everyday stressors.
Parents who underwent training reported a greater decrease in problem behaviors than the parents of children on medication alone, researchers found.
The study is published in the February issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Dr. Joseph Horrigan, assistant vice president and head of medical research for Autism Speaks, said studies like this provide more evidence that parent training can help kids and their families cope with autism-related behavioral problems.
Handle With Care has been training parents in behavior management techniques for over 30 years. See our Parent Training page for the different types of training offered including HWC’s Early Childhood: Pre-School and Early Elementary School Program.