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New study aims to give children with autism the best start in life

A ground-breaking new study has been launched to understand how to support families affected by autism as soon as they receive their diagnosis.

The trial, funded by autism research charity Autistica, will test whether offering Incredible Years, a parent support programme for families, very soon after their child is diagnosed can result in long-term benefits.

Professor Richard Hastings, a study co-researcher from the University of Warwick’s Centre for Educational Development Appraisal & Research (CEDAR), said:

“The focus of our research is to improve outcomes in various dimensions of quality of life for children and adults with autism and their families and carers and so we’re very interested to see whether this programme will provide a cost effective solution to help these young families."

Incredible Years programmes are already widely adopted by schools, playgroups and by parents both across Wales and internationally. By developing young children’s social and emotional understanding, the Incredible Years programmes ensure that the children are ready to gain maximum benefit from their playgroup, school or home environment.

A new adaptation specifically to support parents of young children with autism or language delay has been developed. Following a small trial in North Wales, the first to be run outside the United States, this new, larger trial is to be run across Wales, to test how effective the programme is and review its cost-effectiveness over time.

If trials are successful, this new programme to support parents of young children with autism would need to be tested on a larger scale across the UK, hopefully including the West Midlands.

As Prof Judy Hutchings, from Bangor University, who will be leading the research explains:

“Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have associated difficulties including hyperactivity, anxiety, hypersensitivity to sounds and materials, sleeping difficulties, and difficulty in understanding and managing their emotions. Parenting children with autism presents its own challenges however the behavioural challenges indirectly rising from autism can cause the caregiver more distress and mental health problems than the core direct challenges of ASD”.

The research will begin working with parents in the next few months, 72 families will be involved. One group will receive the programme first and their outcomes will be compared to a control group who will receive the support at a later date.

The parents involved in the earlier pilot found the experience very valuable, not only because they felt less isolated and could share experiences with parents in a similar situation, but also because they learned more about autism and new ways of interacting with, and engaging the attention of, their children.

 Jon Spiers, Autistica’s CEO, said:

“Communication and early intervention are one of the autism community’s greatest priorities for research, so we’re delighted to be funding a cutting-edge project that helps families at one of the toughest times in their autism journey.

This project is incredibly valuable on two fronts: as a research project, it will inform future therapies, but it also has the added benefit of helping a number of families right now. We look forward to seeing the results, and if it is successful, campaigning for this service to be rolled out nationally so everyone in need can benefit.”

25 October 2016


Tom Frew - Senior Press and Media Relations Manager:

E: a dot t dot frew at warwick dot ac dot uk

T: +44(0)7785433155

Nicola Jones- Media Relations Manager, University of Warwick

E: N dot Jones dot 1 at warwick dot ac dot uk

T: +44 (0) 7920531221