Groundbreaking autism intervention gets green light

An autism spectrum disorder treatment that addresses child behaviour and parent wellbeing has received government funding, enabling its delivery to the public.

An innovative parenting intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been funded by the NHMRC to prepare it for national and global release.

The weekly intervention, Parentworks-Spectrum, addresses child social-communication skills, aberrant or disruptive, hyperactive or aggressive child behaviour, and parent wellbeing in a beneficially cohesive manner, during a 12-week span.

…behavioural interventions for ASD are increasingly being shown to produce real changes…

Professor Mark Dadds

“Research has shown that intervention for ASD needs to be very early in a child’s life. While decades of heavily funded research into the biological aspects of ASD have resulted in no progress in treatments for core ASD symptoms, behavioural interventions for ASD are increasingly being shown to produce real changes, and that is what this program focuses on,” Chief Investigator, Professor Mark Dadds, Founder and Director of the Child Behaviour Research Clinic within the University of Sydney School of Psychology said.

Parentworks-Spectrum is the first intervention of its kind to meet the following five criteria:

  • it creates change in core ASD symptoms, associated behavioural regulation problems, and family adjustment to having a child with ASD;
  • it does this within one integrated treatment program;
  • it is brief, so it doesn’t create an unnecessary burden on families;
  • it is not, and will not be, copyright protected; and
  • it is compatible with the recent review and recommendations for improving the NDIS, as it provides greater flexibility, empowerment and skills development to parents.

Initial testing funded by the Rotary Health Research Foundation has shown Parentworks-Spectrum to be effective. That is, it produced clinically significant reductions in the severity and frequency of child behaviour problems, autism symptoms, and parent stress across all eight case studies.

Professor Dadds says he and his team will use the funds for a final evaluation of the intervention. They will also perform a data analysis, “to better inform users how different elements of treatment can be combined to produce optimum outcomes,” he said.

“This intervention will have a significant impact on outcomes for children with ASD, as there are currently no evidence-based early interventions for parents of children with ASD that are readily available in Australia,” he continued.

Parents of children with ASD between two and six years of age can already access the treatment through the Child Behaviour Research Clinic at the University of Sydney.

About the Child Behaviour Research Clinic (CBRC)

Researchers at the CBRC aim to map early developmental and intervention pathways with children who have severe conduct problems and associated problems of anxiety, ADHD and autism.

About ASD

ASD is a life-long condition that can have significant impacts on quality of life for the individuals and their families, along with significant social and economic costs. In terms of early development, reduced eye-gaze and joint attention emerge in the first year of life and go on to predict later diagnosis, measured by the severity of social functioning impairments at age five, and the quality of peer friendships at age nine. Such deficits are also closely linked to later development of impaired language skills and inability to interpret the meaning of social situations.

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