For Parents

For Parents

Help for parents addressing problem behaviors in ASD

A new study looked at training parents to manage their children’s problem behaviors shows some promising news!

As many as 50% of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) exhibit behavior problems that their family, teachers, and other supporters find challenging.  These behaviors can include tantrums, noncompliance, hyperactivity, aggression, and self-injury.

Research has confirmed that disruptive behavior can impact both children and caregivers, which probably comes as a surprise to no one. For children with ASD, these behaviors can interfere with their ability to benefit from educational or therapeutic services and may lead to more social isolation. Children with ASD who have behavioral problems generally have greater deficits in daily living skills like brushing teeth, toileting, getting dressed, and play skills. They often don’t keep up with children their age, and in some case these skills decline over time, so it’s easy to see how this can make it more difficult for these children to gain independence as they get older.

For parents, uncertainty over how to manage these behaviors often results in an understandable increase in stress. But it’s not all bad news: research has indicated that parents can learn and implement strategies to manage their child’s disruptive behavior.

Helping parents helps children

Researchers at Emory University recently led the largest clinical trial to date looking at the effects of parent training on disruptive behaviors in children with ASD. The study included 180 children with and without developmental delays. All of these children had moderate to severe behavioral problems. During the study, parents received 24 weeks of behavioral management training (or general education about ASD if they were in the control group). The parents in the behavioral management group learned techniques for preventing disruptive behavior, positive reinforcement of appropriate behavior, and identifying the function of a behavior.

The study found that children whose parents received behavioral management training had significantly higher scores on a measure of daily living skills than children whose parents received general education. Within the behavior training group, though children without development delays made the biggest gains in daily living skills, children with developmental delays saw improvement as well, which is certainly encouraging, and provides some really strong evidence that behavioral management interventions for parents are effective.  The findings of this study support the ideas that 1) parent training can reduce problem behaviors and 2) reducing problem behaviors can improve a child’s ability to perform activities of daily living – both of which should sound mighty appealing. Of course, behavioral management in children with ASD requires a unique set of skills, which can be learned from trained therapists, which can be a daunting proposition in terms of time and money, but the potential outcomes of increasing the benefits ASD children receive from educational services, decreasing social isolation, and reducing caregiver stress make it absolutely worth considering.



Scahill, L., Bearss, K., Lecavalier, L., Smith, T., Swiezy, N., Aman, M. G., … & Levato, L. (2016). Effect of Parent Training on Adaptive Behavior in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder and Disruptive Behavior: Results of a Randomized Trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.