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Autistic Kids May Benefit From This Kind of Parent-Led Therapy

2 minute read

Parents can learn how to give effective therapy to their children with autism, a new study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry finds.

Researchers at Stanford University looked at a type of therapy called Pivotal Response Training (PRT), which is one the of the handful of treatments shown to be effective for kids on the autism spectrum, says Kari Berquist, PhD, study co-author and a clinical instructor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences and an autism clinician at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. The therapy focuses on improving kids’ motivation language skills by reinforcing their use of language related to the task at hand. One of the advantages is it can be done anywhere: anytime a child attempts to ask for something by name—a toy, say—they’d be rewarded with the item they requested, which reinforces their use of language.

They enrolled a group of parents of 53 autistic children between ages 2-6 in either a PRT course, which taught parents how to do the therapy with their kids, or a psychoeducation group, which taught general autism information. The children joined their parents for several sessions.

Researchers found that after just 12 weeks, 84% of parents were able to learn how to give effective PRT, and the children in the PRT group made significantly more progress than the other group in use of language and how often they were communicating.

“Group models are very new to autism treatment,” says Berquist, but the study shows that they can be effective while also being cheaper and coming with a built-in social support for parents. “I think this really allows us to get more people at once, to give more services at one time.”

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Write to Mandy Oaklander at mandy.oaklander@time.com