Objectives: To conduct a systematic review of the intervention literature for parents of children with autism and propose procedural modifications for future research and clinical applications, particularly for fathers.
Methods: A literature search was conducted to identify research studies that have examined the effectiveness of psychoeducational interventions designed for parents of children with autism. Studies were assigned quality ratings using previously-established criteria across 10 dimensions that included treatment fidelity, follow up data, and statistical controls for group differences (Singer, Ethridge, & Aldana, 2007).
Ten studies were located and examined with regard to group structure, composition, and content; research design; frequency and duration of sessions; participant demographics; dependent variables; and outcomes. A wide variety of group treatments were employed, ranging from educational/skill training interventions to psychological/therapeutic interventions. The treatments employed group instruction alone or in combination with individual sessions. None of the interventions was aimed exclusively at fathers and only 40% included fathers as participants. Only 30% of the studies involved randomized control trials. Outcomes were quite variable, primarily as a function of group type, content, sample size, and the dependent variables that were measured. One of the largest and most rigorous studies (Tonge et al., 2006) found no statistically significant differences between a skills training group and a counselling-based group intervention with regard to parental mental health, although both treatments were superior to a control group that received no intervention. Tonge et al. also noted that the number of fathers who participated was “insufficient to provide empirical evidence of the benefit of these interventions for fathers” (p. 568)
Conclusions: Research is needed to examine the effectiveness of psychoeducational treatment groups specifically designed for fathers, to ascertain their psychological needs and how to help them become more effective parents and partners. Research is also needed to investigate the effectiveness of various types of psychoeducational group interventions using more rigorous research methodology, psychometrically sound measures, and evidence-based interventions, such as manualized treatments. Finally, research is required to compare specific types of psychoeducational group treatments, in order to determine which components (e.g., stress management, parenting skill training, social support, etc.) are most effective.