Children with developmental disabilities who have severe behavior issues respond better to medication if it is paired with training for their parents, researchers say.

In study of 124 children ages 4 to 13 with pervasive developmental disorders, including autism, and significant behavioral problems, kids were prescribed the antipsychotic drug Risperidone, sold under the brand name Risperdal. In addition, some of the children’s parents were given regular training during the six-month study period to help them better respond to behavior issues.

While children in both groups saw gains, those who benefited from the combination of medication and parent training experienced a wider range of improvements, researchers report this month in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

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“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,” said Lawrence Scahill of Yale University who was the senior author of the study.

Adaptive functioning skills can encompass everything from hygiene to managing daily routines, making it a significant real-world measure for families.

“Decreasing these serious behavioral problems results in children who are more able to manage everyday living,” Scahill said.

Those behind the research say they plan to publish parent training manuals to help others across the country implement the strategies found successful in the study. They are also working on further research to assess whether or not parent training alone can be successful in treating younger children.

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