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Early teaching by parents

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have a child with autism. It tells you about early teaching by parents, a treatment used for autism. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

Yes. Experts agree that programmes that train parents how to teach their child skills when they are very young are likely to help with autism. But there hasn't been much good research on this.

Teaching parents about autism and how to connect with their child may help the child speak better. [67]

What is it?

Early teaching by parents gives your child extra help with learning basic skills such as speech before they start school. It starts working on your child's problems early on. Doctors call this early intervention.

The extra help comes mainly from you (the parents) or other daily carers. You get training in how to help a child with autism. [67] [68]

There are different kinds of training programmes for parents. The kind you have may depend on where you live. You might join a group of other parents and carers each week to learn more about autism and how a child with autism sees the world.

The trainers leading your group may also visit you at home to give you more support. And you learn certain skills. For example, you learn how to recognise different types of behaviour in your child and how to help them to communicate.

How can it help?

There hasn't been much research on early teaching by parents. But studies so far suggest that it can: [69]

  • Help children understand language better

  • Help children and parents interact better

  • Reduce the severity of some signs and behaviours of autism.

However, the studies didn't find that early teaching by parents helped in other ways, such as helping children adapt to new environments and situations, and improving other aspects of their communication.

How does it work?

Young children usually learn how to speak and get on with others simply by the daily contact they have with their parents, carers, and other children. But your child with autism may not pick these skills up so easily. They probably need a much more planned way to learn them. This is the aim of early intervention programmes, such as early teaching by parents.

There haven't been many good-quality studies ( randomised controlled trials) into what works best for children with autism. But experts agree that taking steps early can help your child with the problems caused by autism.

All the programmes that help seem to have some things in common. [70]

  • Your child spends many hours each week having special lessons or help with their learning. This can be hard on you as parents.

  • All the lessons are planned out in detail ahead of time. The aim is to give your child lots of instruction.

  • Your family gets involved. This is because your family spends the most time with your child.

Last Updated: August 29, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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