Calming Autism: A Team Effort

Autism treatment through parent-child interaction therapy

(RxWiki News) Some of the hardest parts of coping with autism can be managing the destructive behaviors that children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often display and the strain these outbursts can put on family relationships.

New research presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) shows a connection between participation in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) and an improvement in these behavioral problems.

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PCIT International describes the therapy as a “treatment for young children with emotional and behavioral disorders that places emphasis on improving the quality of the parent-child relationship and changing parent-child interaction patterns.”

While PCIT has been shown to better general behavioral problems, the study authors felt that not enough research had yet explored its outcome on the disruptive behavior of autistic children.

The researchers, led by John Harrington, M.D., say that these disorderly behavioral patterns in children with an ASD often cause “increased use of psychiatric services and medications, suboptimal participation in educational and intervention programs, increased emotional and physical distress in the child and family, and poor social interactions with family members and peers.”

The study examined 33 caregivers and their 5 to 10 year-old children with an ASD.

The families were assigned to either a treatment group where they participated in a PCIT program or a control group that went through normal community treatment. Medication status of the subjects were also compared.

The results, as measured and reported by the participating parents, showed a 60.6% improvement in the intensity of problem behaviors among members of the treatment group, as compared to the control  group.

The results from parents who participated in PCIT therapy with their children also represented  a 44.4% improvement in these externalizing (or disruptive) behaviors overall, when compared to the group not participating in the PCIT program.

Children with a severe ASD seemed to make the greatest gains during the Child-Directed Interaction portion of the treatment (which focuses on play), while the behavior of children with milder forms of the disorder improved during both this phase and the Parent-Directed portion (which focuses on behavior management).

The study was presented during the International Meeting for Autism Research May 17-19 in Toronto, Canada. The research did not receive external funding, and there were no conflicts of interest disclosed.

Since the study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, other scientists have not had a chance to review the methods and data to ensure it passes their quality standards. Further research is needed to solidify the effectiveness of PCIT in treating disruptive behavior in children with autism.

Review Date: 
May 29, 2012