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Skills for parenting children with autism

Managing disruptive behavior in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be frustrating.

But helping parents to both understand what triggers certain behaviors and how best to respond can make a huge difference for families.

Autism photoA study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in April found that parent training was much more effective in reducing disruptive and aggressive behavior than parent education alone. The study involved 180 children ages 3 to 7 with ASD at Emory and five other sites.

It is the largest behavioral intervention study of its kind and builds on a decade of work, notes Lawrence Scahill, study director and professor of pediatrics at the Marcus Autism Center and the School of Medicine. The years of preparation paid off. “Over six months, we found that parents can improve their child’s behavior problems and improve their daily living skills,” says collaborator Karen Bearss, assistant professor of pediatrics.

Subjects were randomly divided into two groups: parent training and parent education. Parents in the training group attended a dozen one-on-one sessions with a therapist to learn techniques for managing their child’s behavior—everything from tantrums and aggression to self-injury and noncompliance. Parents in the education group learned information about autism but no techniques. By the end, 70 percent of children with parents in the training group had improved their behavior versus 40 percent of children with parents in the education group.

“The lives of the children were dramatically improved in both groups, but parent training was clearly superior,” Scahill says.


Lawrence Scahill and Karen Bearss describe the results of a multi-site study sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The study finds young children with autism spectrum disorder and serious behavioral problems respond positively to a 24-week structured parent training.

Related Links

"Parent training effective for reducing behavior problems in autism spectrum disorder" (5/23/2015)

"Autism Speaks selects Emory/ Marcus JAMA publication as one of top 10 research papers of 2015" (2/2/2106)

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