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Evaluating Interventions in Autism: A Parent Educational Group Program

Friday, 3 May 2013: 14:00-18:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
K. L. Berquist1, G. Y. Lee2, C. M. Ardel3 and A. Y. Hardan3, (1)Stanford University School of Medicine/Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford, CA, (2)Stanford University, Cupertino, CA, (3)Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA
Evaluating Interventions in Autism: A Parent Education Group Program

Kari Berquist, Grace Lee, Christina Mich & Antonio Hardan

Background: Despite the availability of more than 966 interventions, there is no clear standard treatment for children with autism. In fact, the majority of these treatments have no or limited empirical support. Currently, decisions about intervention adoption is left up to parents, which are typically not scientific-based and are usually the result of the recommendations of professionals, friends, family, and/or the internet. A previous case series of a manualized individual treatment package found that parents can learn how to evaluate the effectiveness of the interventions their child’s receiving. In light of these promising findings, replication studies are warranted using more efficient treatment delivery approach such as a group model.

Objectives: The purpose of this study is to examine the effectiveness of a 12-week parent education group program in targeting parent’s evaluation skills (e.g., choosing an appropriate research design, operationally define target behaviors, taking reliable data) and scientific-based decisions (e.g., using objective ways to determine if treatments are effective). We hypothesize that parents participating in the study will exhibit improvement in their abilities to evaluate interventions their child’s receiving and increased reliance on scientific-based evidence.

 Methods:  Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder between the ages of 3 to 13-years were invited to participate in this study. Diagnosis was based on an expert clinical opinion and confirmed with Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. Three group series were conducted over a 24 month-period. Each 12-week parent education program included weekly group or individual sessions (eight 90-minute group sessions and four  60-minute individual sessions). Primary measures included a standardized assessment to examine evaluative behaviors conducted at baseline, week 6, and week 12 and rated by a blind investigator.  In addition, a semi-structured parent interview regarding parents’ decision-making was completed at baseline and week 12 and rated by a blind investigator.

Results: This study is ongoing, and to date 22 participants have completed the parent education group program. Preliminary findings replicated previous findings on this manualized program. Parents who participated in the parent education group program significantly improved in their evaluation skills from pre- to post-intervention (Z= 4.015 p< 0.000) and their likelihood of determining effectiveness using scientific means (Z= 3.051 p< 0.002). In addition, ancillary data collected suggest that parents started, stopped, avoided, or modified the use of 24 different interventions as a result of using tools learned during the study.

Conclusions: Preliminary findings suggest that, compared to baseline levels, parents participating in a parent education group program resulted in significant changes in parent’s evaluative skills, and scientific-based decisions. Findings from these preliminary studies suggest that parents of children with autism can learn how to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment their children are receiving, and warrant future controlled studies to examine the value of this group model in a larger sample.

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