Like so many autism parents throughout the UK I woke this morning to emails, messages and social media notifications full of the news that new research published today in the Lancet was apparently claiming some sort of ‘super parenting’ could greatly improve autism.
I read the articles and watched the reports with interest as a parent of two children with autism. My first response was upset, followed by anger that once again it seemed to be implied that poor parenting was the reason for a child with autism not improving. I even wrote this on my own Facebook:
As the reports continued on the media I decided to research directly what this new research was all about. I went to the original source and managed to contact the study leader Professor Jonathan Green. I was privileged to receive communication directly from Jonathan regarding the study and his trial results and I thoroughly read through everything he sent me.
The first thing I realised is that the media were misrepresenting his findings.
Most people will not be overly surprised at this.
Autism parents are particularly used to this, but it still upset me.
As a seasoned autism parent I am well used to the ‘blame the parent’ articles, the ‘latest cure’ ones and the downright ‘false information’ ones. Today’s coverage was a mix of all three at times.
So what did this new research actually reveal in simple terms?
It showed that a group of families with children who had autism and were between age 2-4 years at the start of the trial saw improvements in their child’s autism six year after the trail ended. The ‘trial’ (called pre school autism communication trial or PACT) was an intensive 12 month parenting type course where parents were given tasks to carry out with their child while being filmed and then therapists worked to train the parents on how to improve their interaction and development with their child. Parents then had to also carry out the same tasks with their child at home to ‘practise’ daily for around half an hour a day.
The study was in no way implying parents were actually to blame for their child’s autism but in actually fact believing in the parents as the best advocates and teachers for their own child.
As an autism parent I have always known that early intervention was proven to help children. I fought to get my own children this type of help myself even though it has made little difference to my own severely autistic and non verbal son. All parents want to give their child the best start possible.
But what today’s new research has proven is this:
By helping and supporting parents and working with them a child with autism has the best chance of improving. Did we really need research to prove that?
It also has shown that even six years after training us parents are still wonderful at dealing with our children and we are able to make a lasting and tangible difference in our children’s lives. Well what do you know!
Apparently the NHS is looking at this study to implement it as soon as possible. Should we as parents be worried we are once again going to be blamed for our child’s autism or should we be delighted at the new training?
If the therapists are trained, understanding and dedicated I can see many thousands of families benefitting from a 12 month course. There are similar courses already established such as Hanen more than words and NAS early bird. It seems these are very similar but not long enough?
My worry about today’s findings is that therapists may become even less child centred and more focussed on parents. We may find therapies even harder to obtain as the trend becomes even more ‘leave it to the parents’ which is not at all helpful and not in any way what the research published today wanted.
Finally my advice to other autism parents today would be: this isn’t a cure. Despite what the media suggest these children did not suddenly go from severely autistic to mildly autistic after a magical parenting course. They still had autism they just developed as a result of having parents who dedicated time and energy to them in order to help them.
And there’s the thing: the very fact you read today’s articles and this blog shows you also want the best for YOUR child too.
I am certain if parent dedication and love could be somehow recorded ever researcher would come to the same conclusion as me: the love of a parent make a huge difference to a child wether they have autism or not.