Pilot Study of a Parent Training Program for Young Children with Autism

Solomon, R., Necheles, J., Ferch, C., & Bruckman, D. (2007). Pilot study of a parent training program for young children with autism: The PLAY project home consultation program. Autism, 11, 205-224.

Reviewed by Kathleen Moran, MA
Caldwell College

Why research this topic?

Research has shown that children with autism benefit from comprehensive and intensive therapies. Comprehensive therapies target multiple areas of development (e.g., language, sensory, social, educational). Intensive therapies consist of one-on-one teaching, early treatment, and a planned approach. Both therapies include a focus on language and social behavior. However, one concern is the expense required to provide these therapies. This current investigation evaluated a cost efficient, alternative treatment based on the developmental, individualized, and relationship oriented (DIR) model. The project was called the PLAY Project Home Consulting Program. This program was designed to provide intensive, cost effective, structured treatment to help improve language, increase socialization, and decrease repetitive behaviors. The PLAY program employed a play-based treatment approach using parents to deliver treatment.

What did the researcher do?

Sixty-eight families participated in the study. Parents were taught to provide intensive, one-on-one services to their children at home from three consultants, trained in DIR and the PLAY project. Parents were provided with a manual, a one-day workshop, and consultant training and visits. A 7-step sequence was used to train parents to implement play-based treatment with their children. In addition, monthly visits were provided for a twelve month period to provide feedback to parents. A rating scale was used to measure changes in the caregiver’s behavior and the child’s functional development, before and after treatment. The FEAS rating (The Functional Emotional Assessment Scale), is a clinical rating scale that was applied to evaluate videotaped interactions between children with autism and their caregivers.

What did the researchers find?

Based on FEAS scores, 45.5 percent of children made good to very good functional developmental progress over the study period. Children who had the fewest hours of interaction with parents received lower scores. In the end parents were very satisfied with the program

What are the strengths and limitations of the study?

The PLAY Project took the DIR theory and created a manual, training, and assessment method for a family based intervention. An advantage is that the project as community based and cost effective. A potential limitation was that a rating scale was used to evaluate the children’s interactions rather than a direct measurement. The study also did not have a control group. A control group helps ensure that progress was due to the intervention and not something else.

What do the results mean?

A parent’s involvement may be more important than the actual training. The DIR model supports parents as the primary play partners and offers a naturalistic play based interaction that engages the child. The results of this study, however, need to be interpreted cautiously due to the absence of a control group and additional research is still needed in this area to determine if this intervention is effective.