The Incredible Years Autism Spectrum and Language Delays (IY-ASLD) programme was developed for parents of young children with autism.

Judy Hutchings and her team in Bangor tested the feasibility of the IY-ASLD programme to understand whether it could be effective. This project was the first important step in gathering evidence for this autism-specific programme following diagnosis which is designed to improve

  • the relationship between parents and their child
  • child behaviour
  • communication skills
  • social skills

They also explored how cost-effective the programme is and whether it improves parents' level of stress and anxiety in the period during and following an autism diagnosis for their child.

Explaining the need for this project

Parents of children with a diagnosis of autism often have to manage behavioural difficulties and communication problems as well as their child’s anxiety around changes to their daily routine. These behavioural difficulties can include

  • aggression
  • anxiety
  • depressive symptoms,
  • attention problems
  • social problems
  • thought problems

Taken together, these difficulties mean parenting a child with autism can be very challenging.

We know that parents of young children with autism and those with behaviour problems are more likely to experience stress and depression and social isolation. The Incredible Years parenting programmes have been shown to improve parent-child relationship and parenting skills to reduce behavioural problems.

Adapted for use with parents of children with autism, the IY-ASLD programme uses

  • collaborative group discussion
  • video material to show key parenting principles
  • role-play practice of activities to be done at home

The research process

The Bangor team ran a test called a randomised controlled trial or RCT.

One group in the study received the IY-ASLD parenting programme straight away and the other group received it later, allowing enough time to test group differences. Participants are placed in each group randomly and this reduces the likelihood of bias when the results of the study are analysed.

The trial

  • involved 4 NHS centres
  • trained 7 facilitators to deliver the programme
  • recruited 58 families (29 in each group)
  • followed families up at 6 months and 12 months

How this project is making a difference

  • Initial results are very encouraging with over 80% of parents completing at least 8 sessions and reporting high rates of satisfaction.
  • Over 90% of parents found the materials, teaching and course activities helpful or very helpful.
  • Children showed an improvement in social and emotional skills.
  • By the end of the project, and 12 months thereafter, parents showed a reduction in stress; an improvement in parenting skills; and, offered more praise for their children, compared to a control group of a similar size.

Next steps

Following such promising results, the Incredible Years team continue to work on this holistic intervention. They are focusing on independant reviewing and are hoping to run a larger-scale trial.