Does Super Parenting Improve A Childs Level Of Autism?

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The Law Of... supporting children with autism

Findings from a long-term study involving 152 families have shown that 'super parenting' can have a positive effect on children who have autism, according to the BBC.

Does super parenting improve autism?

Samantha Hale, Associate Solicitor in Education and Community Care at Simpson Millar, explores what implications this new research could have for parents and children with autism.

Children who suffer from severe autism were the focus of this study, which has been published in The Lancet.

One parent – Louisa Harrison – described the pay-off as "remarkable" after noticing a significant improvement in her son Frank.

What Did The Study Involve?

One of the main ideas of the study was to enhance the parenting abilities of mothers and fathers, so that they were able to improve their children's social and communication skills.

"We're taking the parent's interaction with the child and taking it to a 'super' level", Dr Catherine Aldred, a consultant speech and language therapist with Stockport NHS Trust said. "These children need more than 'good enough', they need something exceptional."

As part of the study, parents were recorded with their child, who might have been playing or sitting down. The parents were then shown the video footage, most notably moments where their child moved – even just a little – to be able to play with them.

Communication specialists would then work with the parents to help them develop the skills needed to get the most out of these moments. As some of these children were unable to talk to their parents, the training also involved parents encouraging them to speak more than they usually did.

"You notice things you wouldn’t notice in real time" Louisa commented. "Things like waiting, giving Frank plenty of time to communicate and commenting rather than questioning him, which puts on pressure to respond."

"You feel like you're being really skilled-up by these people who trust your judgement about what makes your child tick."

Breaking New Ground?

The research compared how effective the training would be when compared to the regular therapies given to families with autistic children.

Half of the families involved in the research were given the regular therapies. Around 50% of the children were classed as severely autistic at the start of the study, and after 6 years this percentage had increased to 63%.

The results for the other families who were trained by communication specialists were much more surprising for researchers. Around 55% of the children were severely autistic at the start of the study, but this drastically fell to around 46% after 6 years.

Professor Jonathan Green from the University of Manchester described the findings as "extraordinary".

"This is not a 'cure' in a sense that the children who demonstrated improvements will still show remaining symptoms."

Speaking to BBC Radio 4 about the study, he added that the findings showed that working with parents could lead to long-term improvements.

1 in 100 people develop a degree of autism, but there's currently no drug treatment for it. According to Dr James Cusack – the director of science at the charity Austica – "parents often tell us that they fight for a diagnosis, but when they finally get it, the cupboard is bare, with little information or tailored support available to them."

"Too often, parents fall victim to the false claims of charlatans who prey on desperate families. These results look promising for the many thousands of parents who want to find early interventions for their children based on solid science."

Samantha comments:

"Even though this research is interesting and shows some positive results, I have some concerns with the wider implications this has for parents with autistic children."

"The emphasis placed on parents needing to become 'super parents' isn't fair for several reasons. Firstly, the law clearly states that parents shouldn't have to provide educational provisions for children with special educational needs, which this appears to be."

"Secondly, in cases where parents are happy to provide educational provisions, living up to the expectation of being 'super parents' will place a great deal of pressure on them. If they don't see the results that the research has promised, they're also more likely to blame themselves."

"I often work closely with families who are desperate to secure the best possible educational provisions for their child who has a special educational need or disability, and know how hard parents have to fight for their child to get the support that they need."

"If you're struggling to secure educational provisions for your child and aren't sure where you can turn, our Education Law team will be happy to help you."


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