Researchers highlight benefits of virtual classes for parents of children with autism

Parents should continue to practice early behavioural intervention throughout the coronavirus pandemic to improve outcomes for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a major study has suggested.

The research, published by the Rutgers Centre for Autism Research, explores how “virtual training” could support parents, despite not being able to attend classes in person due to local social distancing laws.

According to the report, digital classes teaching parents of children with autism about early behavioural intervention is an “accessible and effective approach” throughout the lockdown.

Behavioural intervention is commonly used in the treatment of young children on the spectrum to reduce “problem behaviour” such as aggression, and encourage social behaviour such as communication and playing.

Commenting on the study, lead author Wayne Fisher said: “Since parents play an important role in the treatment of their children’s autism symptoms, developing effective, efficient, socially acceptable and accessible training so they can implement these interventions is critically important.

“However, many parents do not have access to this complex training due to geographic, economic and time barriers — or more recently the pandemic, which has made in-person training difficult.”

To explore the benefits of virtual classes, the researchers looked at 25 families split into two groups; one with virtual training and one without.

The study found that parents in the virtual training group showed “large and statistically significant” improvements compared to the group that did not receive training.

Mr Fisher said: “The findings show that parents can be virtually trained in these complex procedures and that the methods are ones that they find easy to use.

“You want these treatments to not only work in the clinic with the trained technicians but also in a child’s daily life, helping parents to manage behaviour and helping the child communicate better and to do activities like go out to dinner.”

According to the latest statistics, autism affects around one in every 100 people, meaning there are around 700,000 individuals on the autism spectrum in the UK.

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