Posted August 15, 2013
Brooke Ingersoll, Ph.D., Michigan State University

Brooke Ingersoll, Ph.D. Training parents to provide evidence-based interventions themselves can increase the intensity of intervention that a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) receives and may be critical for improving long-term outcomes. Although parent training is considered an essential component of early intervention programs for children with ASD, many families have difficulty accessing training due to a lack of appropriately trained providers in their area, transportation, time limitations, and lack of childcare. These barriers are especially pronounced in rural and underserved areas. Web-based, distance learning programs have great potential for increasing parents' access to training in ASD interventions at a very low cost. However, for this approach to be successful, it is necessary to understand how parents use and learn from this type of program.

With the support of a Fiscal Year 2009 Autism Research Program Idea Award, Dr. Brooke Ingersoll and her colleagues at Michigan State University developed ImPACT Online, a highly innovative, web-based, distance learning program that teaches parents to support their child's social communication development using a novel blend of evidence-based intervention techniques. ImPACT Online uses effective adult learning tools to help parents learn the intervention techniques and integrate them into their daily interactions with their child. The program is designed to be self-directed, so parents can complete the program at anytime from anywhere there is Internet access.

To investigate how parents use web-based distance learning, Dr. Ingersoll's team is conducting a feasibility study with 30 families of children with ASD. Half of the families will complete the program on their own, and the other half will receive remote coaching from a trained therapist as they complete the program. The investigators will examine how the parents engage with the online program, whether they learn the material, whether they can use the intervention with their children effectively, and the extent to which they use the skills they learn and find the program acceptable. By comparing parent responses in the self-directed only to self-directed plus remote coaching conditions, researchers will be able to understand to what extent additional support (remote coaching) is needed for parents to be successful.

The next step is to examine whether parents' use of ImPACT Online leads to improvement in their children's social communication skills. The researchers also seek to determine whether the program has positive effects on parent mental health. If this approach to parent training is successful, it has implications for a wide range of remote training opportunities, including provider training, which will enhance the availability of high-quality and efficacious intervention in areas that are currently underserved.

This work is part of the research team's larger efforts to identify methods for increasing access to evidence-based interventions for children with ASD. ImPACT Online is adapted from the team's parent training curriculum, Project ImPACT, which was specifically designed to be compatible with multiple service delivery models. If successful, ImPACT Online would offer an additional delivery model for the program. Dr. Ingersoll is hopeful that increasing options for the delivery of parent training services will encourage greater community utilization of this important treatment approach.


Public and Technical Abstracts: Development of an Internet-Based Parent Training Intervention for Children with ASD

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