International Meeting for Autism Research: Children's Progress Across An Intensive 3-Month Unity Parent ABA Training Program

Children's Progress Across An Intensive 3-Month Unity Parent ABA Training Program

Thursday, May 12, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
9:00 AM
J. L. Scammell1, D. D. Barrie2, V. A. Bruce1, M. N. Gragg2, T. M. Carey1 and M. Tahir1, (1)Psychology, University of Windsor, Windsor, ON, Canada, (2)University of Windsor, Wiindsor, ON, Canada
Background: Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is one of the leading evidence-based interventions for improving the functioning of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).  Although early intervention is important for positive outcomes, demand for ABA is high and waitlists are long.  Thus, finding alternative ways for parents to access earlier treatment for their children is critical, including training parents to implement ABA in their homes. Few studies; however, have examined the effect parent training programs have on children’s development.

Objectives: To investigate the effectiveness of intensive, 3-month Unity parent training for improving children’s progress in cognitive and adaptive functioning, comparing their cognitive and adaptive skills before and after the training program.

Methods: Twenty parents of preschool children with ASD were selected to participate in Unity parent training (85% mothers, Mage = 33.3 years). Children (94% boys) ranged in age from 17 to 51 months (Mage = 39.1 months). Half were diagnosed with Autistic Disorder and half with PDD-NOS. Parents learned to apply ABA with their children during 180 hours of centre-based ABA training across 12 weeks. Children’s cognitive and adaptive functioning was assessed before and after Unity as part of a larger study.  Children’s cognitive functioning was measured with the Mullen’s Scales of Early Learning (MSEL); adaptive behaviour was measured with the Vineland Adaptive Behaviour Scales, Second Edition (VABS-II).

Results: Significant progress in children’s cognitive and adaptive functioning was found.  Children’s cognitive functioning levels on the MSEL before the Unity program were below the 1st percentile on average (Early Learning Composite = 65.75, SD = 18.37). Dependent-samples t-tests of standard scores indicated significant improvement in the overall Early Learning Composite (t(19) = -4.44, p < .001, Mdiff = -10.80), Visual Reception (t(19) = -3.24, p = .004, Mdiff = -10.35), Fine Motor skills (t(19) = -2.35, p = .03, Mdiff = -9.80), and Expressive Language (t(19) = -2.65, p = .02, Mdiff = -8.75).  Children’s average overall cognitive functioning significantly improved (after Unity Early Learning Composite = 76.55, SD = 23.92). Children made an average of 6 to 8 months gain in cognitive skills over 3 months. Children’s adaptive functioning levels on the VABS-II before the Unity program were moderately low on average (Adaptive Behaviour Composite [ABC] = 77.00, SD = 9.08). Dependent-samples t-tests of standard scores indicated improvement in the ABC scores (t(19) = -3.21, p = .005, Mdiff = -2.60) and Communication subdomain (t(19) = -3.66, p = .002, Mdiff = -5.75).  Children’s average overall adaptive functioning significantly improved (after Unity ABC = 79.60, SD = 10.14). Children made significant gains in the ABC and all domain age equivalent scores, with an average of 3 to 5 months gain in adaptive skills over 3 months.

Conclusions: Parents were effective in improving the cognitive and adaptive functioning of their preschool children with ASD over the 3 months of Unity parent training, especially in early learning skills, visual reception, language, and communication skills. Data collection is ongoing.

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