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Parents Play Key Role in Autism Treatment

  • Published: 2010-06-01 : Author: Chicago Children's Clinic
  • Synopsis: Study followed three sets of parents who each have one child with a confirmed diagnosis of autism.

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Research shows that children do better when parents receive clinical training...

New research on behavioral treatment for autism has been released by the Chicago Children's Clinic, advancing previous findings that parents can play a critical role in a child's autism treatment.

The clinic, which provides specialized services for children with autism spectrum disorders, presented its findings at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) in Philadelphia on May 21.

The study showed that when parents received 25 hours of training in Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) and in one case only 6 hours of training they learned key skills to help their autistic children make significant improvements in verbal and social functioning.

PRT is a widely researched, evidence-based behavioral treatment for autism spectrum disorders pioneered more than 30 years ago and instituted at the Koegel Autism Center at the University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB).

"This study confirms what we have been seeing at our clinic since we began providing PRT in 2007," says Dr. Robert Daniels, executive director of the Chicago Children's Clinic. "Parents can be trained to be the best clinicians for their children."

Training in Evidence-Based Pivotal Response Treatments: Exploring Different Models of Parent-Training and Direct Implementation was co-authored by Dr. Daniels and presented at IMFAR by Dr. Stephanie Northington of the Chicago Children's Clinic. IMFAR is an annual meeting where researchers from around the world gather to exchange latest scientific findings on the nature, causes, and treatments for autism spectrum disorders.

"The families we studied are representative of the families we see every day," says Daniels, whose practice has served some 1,000 children with autism, learning disabilities, social-emotional disorders, and other conditions over the past decade. "We've found that providing parents with training in established treatments is a necessary component, and sometimes a sufficient component, for children with autism to get better."

Built on previous research on PRT and parent training, the study followed three sets of parents who each have one child with a confirmed diagnosis of autism. The children included two boys and a girl, aged 7, 4, and 3, respectively. Parents received formal training in PRT; their fidelity to the training and their children's progress were recorded by videotape. Two families received up to 10 hours per week of additional clinical support.

Current benchmarks hold that children with autism must receive therapy from a trained clinician for 25 hours each week over several years to make notable progress. These latest findings verify that dramatic gains can be made when parents receive training in PRT, and are then able to provide many hours of therapy to their child themselves, utilizing everyday experiences to teach language and social skills.

"PRT is scientifically rigorous, and also happens to fun and play-based," Daniels says. "Plus, when parents are trained as direct treatment providers, the costs to the family are reduced substantially."

PRT is endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Autism Center. The Chicago Children's Clinic was selected by UCSB in 2009 as the only national replication site for PRT in Illinois.

Dr. Daniels will present a free lecture, "How an Independent Educational Evaluation Can Be Your Roadmap through the Maze of Special Education," at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, 545 East Avenue in Oak Park on Saturday, June 12 from 4:00-6:00 PM.

The discussion is sponsored by Talking About Curing Autism (TACA) and geared toward parents of children and adolescents with a variety of special needs. Please call the Chicago Children's Clinic at (312) 587-1742 or visit for more information.

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3 : Reduced Attention to Audiovisual Synchrony in Infancy May Predict Autism Diagnosis : Uppsala University.
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5 : The Multiple Mutations of Autism : University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine.
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