Joy Kolb, Ph.D. (December 2007)
(Mentor: Laura Stapleton)
Parents of children with autism sometimes experiment with controversial treatments in the hopes of ameliorating their children’s autistic characteristics. When parents do seek training on empirically-based treatments, training programs are typically held outside the home. Some parents are unable to access traditional parent trainings because of cost, transportation, and child-care issues associated with these training programs. It is possible a web-based training program could address the limitations of these traditional programs. For example, a web-based training program can be accessed in the home which may eliminate childcare or transportation burdens. In addition, it is possible that web-based trainings can be offered at a reduced expense because the professional does not need to travel to training centers or homes and they will not spend their time presenting a lecture repeatedly to different audiences. However, currently there is very little research on the effectiveness of online parent training programs.
The purpose of this study was to explore the effectiveness of an online training program to teach empirically-based interventions to parents of children with autism in the home environment. The online program was designed to teach parents skills to decrease problem behaviors exhibited by their children with autism. The intervention package provided training on priming techniques, extinction, differential reinforcement, visual supports, and systematic instruction to reduce problem behavior. The training program included the use of didactic instruction (i.e., the presentation of training materials through text), modeling of the intervention steps through video clips, and feedback on parent performance of the intervention steps provided through web-based communication.
Three parents and their children with autism participated in this study. All of the children exhibited moderate to high rates of disruptive behaviors during daily routines (e.g., transitioning from a leisure activity to the bathroom). During the intervention phase, the parents learned an intervention package from a training website designed by the investigator. The parents were responsible for video recording their implementation of the intervention steps with their children on a daily basis. The investigator regularly viewed the parents’ implementation of the intervention and was able to provide corrective feedback to the parents through email and biweekly chatroom meetings.
An evaluation of the data indicated that the parents learned to correctly implement the intervention package in the home environment. In addition, two of the parents reliably decreased the number of times they attended to their children’s disruptive behavior (e.g., commenting during a tantrum) in comparison to baseline levels. In addition, the children’s disruptive behavior decreased substantially as the parent implemented the intervention package.
These results contribute to the limited research on web-based parent training programs. The results suggest online training programs may provide useful and cost efficient alternatives to traditional parent-training programs. In addition, this study contributes to the delivery of empirically-based behavioral strategies to at-risk populations.
Future research could focus on using advanced technology to improve the delivery of the web-based training. In addition, it would be informative to determine the level of professional support that is necessary for the parents’ to learn the intervention package. Is it possible that the bi-weekly chatroom meetings could be replaced with email or telephone correspondence? Finally, it would be helpful to assess the parents’ and their children’s behaviors in situations outside of the training environment to determine if the parents were able to generalize the skills they learned and to measure changes in the children’s behaviors in other routines.