Parents Can Help their Autistic Child More Effectively Through Group Therapy

Children on the spectrum may benefit from receiving therapies from their parents or caregivers.

With autism disorders being diagnosed in the United States at increasingly high rates, professionals are looking for ways to share their expertise as much as possible. The number of clinicians who treat those on the spectrum is growing, but not nearly at the rate that children are being diagnosed.  Therefore, it is becoming essential for parents and other caregivers to participate in group therapy to learn how to effectively help improve various skills for their child.

A new study, conducted by researchers at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, found that parents could learn to effectively deliver autism treatments to their own children through a short series of classes. The recent study focused primarily on building language skills for children with ASD. Their approach essentially teaches groups of parents various autism therapies that can be delivered right in their own home.

Pivotal response training, a therapy utilized in the group sessions, targets the development of kids’ language skills. The therapy sessions provide parents with structured methods for building children’s verbal skills during typical interactions that they can anticipate the child experiencing in their daily lives. Researchers stress that having parents provide treatments for their children is meant to be complimentary to that of what autism professionals provide, and by no means is it meant to replace the effective methods that professionals use in treating the children. However, having parents learn these methods can be truly valuable, as well as cost-effective.

Dr. Grace Gengoux, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and psychologist specializing in autism treatment at the hospital, states, “There are two benefits: The child can make progress, and the parents leave the treatment program better equipped to facilitate the child’s development over the course of their daily routines”. She continues, “The ways that parents instinctually interact with children to guide language development may not work for a child with autism, which can frustrate parents. Other studies have shown that learning this treatment reduces parents’ stress and improves their happiness. Parents benefit from knowing how to help their children learn.”

In order to build language skills in the child, parents are taught to help identify something that the child wants, and then systematically reward the child for trying to communicate what they want. For example, the parent can say “Do you want the toy truck? Say ‘truck’.” The child might try to begin saying the word, and the parent would reward the child’s efforts by giving him the toy truck to play with. Dr. Antonio Hardan, lead author of the study, states, “Parents can create opportunities for this treatment to work at the dinner table, at the park, in the car, [etc.]”.

Researchers are now following up with the parents that participated in the group sessions to see how they can provide additional assistance in having children and families benefit more effectively from this therapeutic approach. Furthermore, they would like to see how parental efforts can help children on the spectrum build various other skills, such as motor skill development, or social skills.

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