Effect of parent training vs parent education on behavioral problems in children with autism spectrum disorder: a randomized clinical trial

JAMA. 2015 Apr 21;313(15):1524-33. doi: 10.1001/jama.2015.3150.


Importance: Disruptive behavior is common in children with autism spectrum disorder. Behavioral interventions are used to treat disruptive behavior but have not been evaluated in large-scale randomized trials.

Objective: To evaluate the efficacy of parent training for children with autism spectrum disorder and disruptive behavior.

Design, setting, and participants: This 24-week randomized trial compared parent training (n = 89) to parent education (n = 91) at 6 centers (Emory University, Indiana University, Ohio State University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Rochester, Yale University). We screened 267 children; 180 children (aged 3-7 years) with autism spectrum disorder and disruptive behaviors were randomly assigned (86% white, 88% male) between September 2010 and February 2014.

Interventions: Parent training (11 core, 2 optional sessions; 2 telephone boosters; 2 home visits) provided specific strategies to manage disruptive behavior. Parent education (12 core sessions, 1 home visit) provided information about autism but no behavior management strategies.

Main outcomes and measures: Parents rated disruptive behavior and noncompliance on co-primary outcomes: the Aberrant Behavior Checklist-Irritability subscale (range, 0-45) and the Home Situations Questionnaire-Autism Spectrum Disorder (range, 0-9). On both measures, higher scores indicate greater severity and a 25% reduction indicates clinical improvement. A clinician blind to treatment assignment rated the Improvement scale of the Clinical Global Impression (range, 1-7), a secondary outcome, with a positive response less than 3.

Results: At week 24, the Aberrant Behavior Checklist-Irritability subscale declined 47.7% in parent training (from 23.7 to 12.4) compared with 31.8% for parent education (23.9 to 16.3) (treatment effect, -3.9; 95% CI, -6.2 to -1.7; P < .001, standardized effect size = 0.62). The Home Situations Questionnaire-Autism Spectrum Disorder declined 55% (from 4.0 to 1.8) compared with 34.2% in parent education (3.8 to 2.5) (treatment effect, -0.7; 95% CI, -1.1 to -0.3; P < .001, standardized effect size = 0.45). Neither measure met the prespecified minimal clinically important difference. The proportions with a positive response on the Clinical Global Impression-Improvement scale were 68.5% for parent training vs 39.6% for parent education (P < .001).

Conclusions and relevance: For children with autism spectrum disorder, a 24-week parent training program was superior to parent education for reducing disruptive behavior on parent-reported outcomes, although the clinical significance of the improvement is unclear. The rate of positive response judged by a blinded clinician was greater for parent training vs parent education.

Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT01233414.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / etiology
  • Child Behavior Disorders / therapy*
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / complications
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / therapy*
  • Female
  • Health Education*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parents / education*
  • Single-Blind Method

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01233414