The Power of Parents in Autism Intervention

If your role includes supporting the communication development of young children, you know that involving parents effectively is key to your success. Instead of watching the professional as she provides the therapy, parents and professionals work together so the parent can become the “therapist.” With guidance, parents learn how to help their child at home. In this way, parents can turn any everyday activity into an opportunity for communication, and essentially provide therapy every day for their child.

But what about parents of children with autism spectrum disorder? Is it effective when parents provide therapy at home with their child? Autism spectrum disorder affects children’s ability to interact and play, and parents sometimes find it difficult to catch their child’s attention, engage them in an activity, or know which types of toys are appropriate for their child. This begs the question…

If parent-implemented intervention relies on the parent helping their child at home, does it work if the parent is struggling to interact and engage with their child?

Study reveals that parent-implemented autism intervention works!

Studies that have looked at parent-implemented intervention have often included children with a wide variety of language abilities and diagnoses [1,2]. But a group of researchers from Illinois decided to review studies specific to children with autism spectrum disorder [3]. Hedda Meadan and her colleagues looked at twelve studies of parent-implemented intervention with young children with autism spectrum disorder*. While the interventions in the different studies taught the parents a variety of approaches and strategies, all of the studies involved teaching parents to work directly with their child at home. Altogether, 105 children (and 110 parents) were included in these studies.

Meadan and her colleagues found positive benefits for both parents and children

The twelve studies showed that:

  • Parents successfully learned new strategies to use with their children at home
  • Parents’ use of these new strategies resulted in positive changes in their children’s social and communication skills

What these results mean is that parents of children with autism spectrum disorder are able to learn strategies to help their child, and when they use these strategies, their child improves. And in answer to the question posed above…. yes, even though parents may find it difficult to engage their child at times, they can learn ways to interact with their child that promote communication and social interaction.

What are the barriers to involving parents in autism intervention?

Meadan and her colleagues suggest that there are some barriers to parent-implemented intervention. Two of these barriers are parents’ access to parent-friendly materials that describe how to use strategies with their child, and professionals’ lack of training related to working with parents and helping them learn strategies. They feel that with more resources for parents and training for professionals, parent-implemented intervention can be more widely used.

Making parent-implemented intervention happen – A new training

Recognizing the need for parent-friendly resources and evidence-based training for professionals, The Hanen Centre recently launched a 2-day workshop designed to facilitate and enhance your efforts to involve families and to achieve the best possible outcomes for young children with social communication challenges.

4 “I”s to Socialize provides:

  • A research-based protocol for evaluating children’s social communication and determining next steps – A comprehensive checklist helps you zero in on a child’s stage of social communication and identify what his or her next target may be
  • A set of responsive interaction strategies drawn from Hanen’s evidence-based More Than Words® program – You’ll share these strategies with parents so they can facilitate their child’s ability to engage in extended, enjoyable interactions within everyday activities and routines
  • A structured parent coaching framework that’s based on principles of adult learning – this consists of a clear, 4-step coaching model that considers the needs of adult learners and effectively supports parents’ application and generalization of strategies

Join us at the next 4 “I”s to Socialize Workshop

When professionals and parents team up…

The power of involving parents in their child’s intervention cannot be underestimated. As Meadan and her colleagues explain:

  • …a few hours of therapy each week does not result in the type of developmental gains for children compared to those achieved by teaching families intervention strategies and encouraging them to take advantage of the ‘teachable moments’ they have with their children in home and community environments” [3, p. 103].

Parent-implemented intervention provides a child with the most possible opportunities to learn, since he is learning during his everyday life, each and every day. And because he is learning new things at home with the people closest to him, learning becomes natural, motivating, and fun. When parents and professionals team up and collaborate in this way, it ensures that a child with autism spectrum disorder learns from the best possible teachers – his parents.

Show references

Rakap, S. & Rakap, S. (2014). Parent-implemented naturalistic language interventions for young children with disabilities: A systematic review of single-subject experimental designs. Educational Research Review, 13, 35-51.

Roberts, M., & Kaiser, A. (2011). The Effectiveness of Parent-Implemented Language Intervention: A Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 20, 180–199.

Meadan, H., Ostrosky, M. M., Zaghlawan, H. Y., & Yu, S. (2009). Promoting the social and communicative behavior of young children with autism spectrum disorders: A review of parent-implemented intervention studies. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 29(2), 90-104.

Zwaigenbaum, L., Bauman, M.L., Choueiri, R., Kasari, C., Carter, A., Granpeesheh, D., Mailloux, Z., Smith Roley, S., Wagner, S., Fein, D., Pierce, K., Buie, T., Davis, P.A., Newschaffer, C., Robins, D., Wetherby, A., Stone, W.L., Yirmiya, N., Estes, A., Hansen, R.L., McPartland, J.C., Natowicz, M.R. (2015). Early Intervention for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder Under 3 Years of Age: Recommendations for Practice and Research. Pediatrics, 136(Suppl. 1), S60-S81.