In a recent study, Yale investigators and their colleagues discovered that parental training, in addition to medications, provided a better result for children with behavioral problems than medication alone.
Scahill and his team completed a federally funded trial on 124 children ages 4 to 13 with autism spectrum disorders at three U.S. sites including Yale, Ohio State University and Indiana University.
For six months, children in the study were randomly assigned either medication alone or medication plus a structured training program for their parents.
Parent training included regular visits to the clinic to teach parents how to respond to behavior problems to help children adapt to daily living situations.
“In a previous report from this trial, we showed that the combined treatment was superior to medication alone in reducing the serious behavioral problems,” said Scahill.
Another researcher, Paul T. Shattuck, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, has been investigating medication use, “Unfortunately, there is very poor understanding of overall medication use for kids with autism.”
Shattuck says that pharmacological treatment for ASD reflects a trial and error approach based on associated symptoms.
“Observations from the present study reinforce the complexity of pharmacologic treatment of challenging behavior in kids with ASDs and ADHD. There needs to be a clearer guide for treating kids with both an ASD and ADHD.”
They found a disparity in African-American medication use. Black teenagers with autism only or with autism and ADHD were less likely to receive medications than Caucasians.
Children with autism may benefit from medications to treat children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and other related disorders, but Shattuck concluded clearer guidelines are needed.
The Yale study found that “combination treatment was better than medication alone on measures of adaptive behavior. We note that both groups — medication alone and combined treatment group — demonstrated improvement in functional communication and social interaction. But the combined group showed greater improvement on several measures of everyday adaptive functioning.”
These positive findings will be investigated in a new study that uses parent training without medication use in treating younger children with autism spectrum disorders.
The investigators also plan to share this intervention with the public by publishing parent training manuals based off the strategies that yielded the best results.