As researchers look for ways to help parents better interact with their kids on the spectrum, a new study suggests that families may be able to boost their skills without even leaving home.

In a pilot study looking at 28 families, researchers found that parents could be taught to improve their children’s social communication through an online program. And, they found that adding in regular videoconferencing with a therapist further increased the positive impact.

“We now have good preliminary evidence that telehealth can increase access to parent training interventions for families of young children with autism spectrum disorder,” said Brooke Ingersoll of Michigan State University who led the study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

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For the study, parents of children with autism completed a 75-minute online lesson introducing research-based intervention techniques once a week for 12 weeks. Half of the parents also participated in 30-minute coaching sessions with a therapist via videoconferencing twice weekly where the lessons were reinforced.

The children were assessed before parents participated in any online sessions, once the lessons were completed and then again three months later.

Kids in both groups showed improvement in social communication skills after their parents participated in the online training. Moms and dads also displayed less stress and greater competence in dealing with their children after participating, the study found.

The largest gains were observed in parents who participated in videoconferencing in addition to the lessons.

While more research is needed, Ingersoll said the findings suggest that telehealth offers great potential for families affected by autism.

“Parents of children with autism can be highly stressed and oftentimes it’s because they don’t know how to communicate with their child,” she said. “So by giving them the skills to help communicate and engage with their child, it improves their sense of competence and decreases their stress.”

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