Objective: To evaluate the effectiveness of the Play and Language for Autistic Youngsters (PLAY) Project Home Consultation model, in combination with usual community services (CS), to improve parent-child interaction, child development, and autism symptomatology in young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) compared with CS only.
Methods: Children (N = 128) with autism or PDD-NOS (DSM-4 criteria) aged 2 years 8 months to 5 years 11 months and recruited from 5 disability agencies in 4 US states were randomized in two 1-year cohorts. Using videotape and written feedback within a developmental framework, PLAY consultants coached caregivers monthly for 12 months to improve caregiver-child interaction. CS included speech/language and occupational therapy and public education services. Primary outcomes included change in parent-child interactions, language and development, and autism-related diagnostic category/symptoms. Secondary outcomes included parent stress and depression and home consultant fidelity. Data were collected pre- and post-intervention.
Results: Using intent-to-treat analysis (ITT), large treatment effects were evident for parent and child interactional behaviors on the Maternal and Child Behavior Rating Scales. Child language and developmental quotient did not differ over time by group, although functional development improved significantly. PLAY children improved in diagnostic categories on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). PLAY caregivers' stress did not increase, and depressive symptomatology decreased. Home consultants administered the intervention with fidelity.
Conclusions: PLAY intervention demonstrated substantial changes in parent-child interaction without increasing parents' stress/depression. ADOS findings must be interpreted cautiously because results do not align with clinical experience. PLAY offers communities a relatively inexpensive effective intervention for children with ASD and their parents.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01768806.