Is the latest research on autism blaming parents or training parents?

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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:

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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.

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9 thoughts on “Is the latest research on autism blaming parents or training parents?

  1. . A person with autism has there good days and bad days like the rest of us. This does not mean it is bad parenting, Parents of autistic children have exceptional patience and are a credit to society.

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  2. ‘I am certain if parent dedication and love could be somehow recorded every researcher would come to the same conclusion as me: the love of a parent makes a huge difference to a child wether they have autism or not.’ LOVE THIS ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My first thought as a parent to a 6 year old with core autism and non verbal, and also a health visitor by profession, was did we really need a research paper to tell us that interacting with our children from a young age helps their development ? I talk to parents to be every day about the importance of stimulation and interaction from prebirth and in the early years. Not to prevent autism as I know personally that pre-birth interaction and stimulation through the first year did not prevent my sons autism, he was born with it. This research is basic parenting really although with our unique children we may have to approach the stimulation and interactions in a different way. We personally as a family have been providing our son with aba therapy and have seen a huge benefit, unfortunately these therapys are costly and largely only available to those who look for them or are introduced to them by others. These types of therapy should be readily available to all and should be automatically provided to our children, not by chance or because you can afford it, until, that changes lots of our little ones will not meet their full potential even with the best parents world (which we all are !) Tricia

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  4. I agree with most of your article but not the bit where you said the parents attended an ‘intensive parenting-type course’. I think it would be more accurate to say the parents receive a 12 month course in social communication therapy, If it had been reported as this then it would be clearer that this is NOT about general parenting skills but a specific skill set that parents with Autistic children need to be trained to become expert in to support their children. The research itself shows this particular training works better than the current practice (which may include early bird courses) and we need that hard evidence before such training will be funded.

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  5. I was interested in reading this blog, as my mother in law had asked me what I felt about the news reports….
    My response… It made me feel guilty …. Had I not done enough (even though I’m a very proactive parent)
    You’re right… The way the press have portrayed it, makes it seem like a ‘semi-cure’
    What would be helpful is if all relevant and appropriate courses were much more available…. There should be no ‘oh there’s a six month waiting list!’ And then it’s on a day you can’t meet due to work and/or no appropriate childcare provision.

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  6. To be honest I took one look at the headline and decided to give the entire vessel of manure a wide berth. My son improved in spades after we dismissed the experts. It didn’t happen by accident, it’s been hard frustrating work and it’s still happening. I don’t need an expert to tell me how to communicate with my boy, they had their chance and they failed miserably

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  7. The interesting thing is that this study didnt show any real evidence in the area it was designed to target . Children made little gains in social communication .

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