Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit disruptive behaviors from time to time. It can be difficult to know what triggers outbursts so it’s also difficult to know how to prevent them or ease the child through them. Education and parental instinct are valuable assets to use to calm a distraught child but a new study identifies a 24-week program that trains parents of autistic children how to handle these outbursts with superior results.

The parent-training program was designed and tested by ASD specialists working with the Research Units on Behavioral Intervention (RUBI) Autism Network, six separate research sites across the US that are funded by the National Institute of Mental Health to develop and test treatment plans that improve the well-being of autistic patients.

The RUBI team refined known treatments for non-autistic children diagnosed with one or more disruptive behavior disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and conduct disorder (CD) so the treatments are better suited to the autistic child.

The researchers worked with the parents of 180 children, aged 3 to 7, at six sites. All children were autistic with behavioral problems. The families were randomly assigned to a 24-week parent-education program or a 24-week parent-training program.

Study demographics reveal 88% of the autistic children were boys and 86% of all the participating children were white.

24-Week Parent Education

The parents of the 91 children in this study group attended 12 core educational sessions during which they were provided information about ASD but they were not taught any behavior-management strategies. Each family was visited at home for observational study one time during the 24-week study period.

24-Week Parent Training

The parents of the 89 children in this group also received educational training but they were additionally taught management strategies to work with disruptive behaviors. Their training course consisted of 11 core sessions, two telephone booster sessions, and two home visits.

All parents used two tools to measure disruptive behavior and non-compliance: the Aberrant Behavior Checklist-Irritability subscale and the Home Situations Questionnaire-Autism Spectrum Disorder. These reports were assessed by a clinician who did not know which family was in which group.

Both approaches — education and training — produced improved behaviors but the training group enjoyed the greater drop in disruptive behaviors. The education group reported:

  • 31.8% improvement on the Aberrant Behavior Checklist
  • 34.2% improvement on the Home Situations Questionnaire

The parent-training group reported:

  • 47.7% improvement on the Aberrant Behavior Checklist
  • 55% improvement on the Home Situations Questionnaire

“Both groups showed improvement but parent training was superior on measures of disruptive and noncompliant behavior,” stated James Dziura, an associate professor of the Yale University Department of Emergency Medicine who was part of the data management and statistical analysis phase of the study.


  1. Bearss, Karen, et al. "Effect of Parent Training vs Parent Education on Behavioral Problems in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial." JAMA / The Journal of the American Medical Association 313.15 (2015). The JAMA Network. Web. 7 May 2015.
  2. "Autism Behavior Problems: What's Triggering Your Child's Outbursts?" Harvard Medical School, n.d. Web. 7 May 2015.