With group training sessions, researchers say parents can learn to successfully incorporate autism therapy techniques into their everyday interactions with their children.

In a short series of classes, parents were able to learn to apply a language-skills therapy method called pivotal response training and saw meaningful improvement in their kids, according to findings published Monday in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

The study is believed to be the first to test whether parents can effectively learn in a group setting to apply an autism therapy.

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Not only was the approach successful, but researchers said that parents liked being able to learn from each other.

“Parents really do feel more empowered when they’re in a group setting,” said Kari Berquist of the Stanford University School of Medicine, a co-author of the study. “They’re talking, connecting, sharing their experiences. It gives them a sense of community.”

For the study, researchers randomly assigned parents of 53 children with autism to participate in 12 weeks of classes on pivotal response training or a control group that learned basics about autism. All of the children were between the ages of 2 and 6 and had language delays.

Moms and dads who received the pivotal response training were taught to build language skills through natural interactions. For example, if their son or daughter wanted a ball, parents were taught to encourage their child to say “ball” before rewarding them with the item.

All of the children were assessed at the outset of the study, at six weeks and at 12 weeks to determine their language abilities. Parents were also videotaped at six and 12 weeks to measure how well they were applying the treatment.

Ultimately, the researchers found that 84 percent of parents trained in the pivotal response method were using it correctly by the end of the study. What’s more, children whose parents learned the technique saw greater gains in both the number of words used and how they used them as compared to children in the control group.

Even with the improvements, researchers said that parent-implemented approaches are intended to augment, not replace, autism therapies from professionals.

“The ways that parents instinctually interact with children to guide language development may not work for a child with autism, which can frustrate parents,” said study co-author Grace Gengoux of Stanford. “Parents benefit from knowing how to help their children learn.”