A new research project is underway to provide evidence-based support for parents of autistic children.

Researchers will evaluate whether web-based content and online virtual coaching interventions can support autistic children with their social communication, as well as supporting the mental health and wellbeing of their caregivers.

The study, which has been granted $500,000 in joint funding by A Better Start National Science Challenge and Cure Kids, will also evaluate the acceptability of these approaches for Māori and Pacific families.

Associate Professor Laurie McLay of the University of Canterbury, who is leading the project, says the prevalence of autism has markedly increased recently, with estimates suggesting 1 in 59 people are autistic.

Service demand exceeds capacity in many regions, with lengthy waitlists and an unmet need for culturally appropriate support, she says.

This new model of telehealth-delivered support, in parallel for both parents and children, could transform the way services are delivered for autistic children, says Associate Professor McLay. It could also increase timely access to critical support for families who otherwise face long waits, resulting in collateral gains across many aspects of child and family functioning.

“Autistic children experience challenges in some aspects of social communication, behaviour and learning. Access to early support is critical in mitigating some of these challenges and enhancing the wellbeing of both children and their caregivers.”

Following the two-year study, results will be evaluated to see if the online interventions benefit children’s learning and development and have a positive impact on parent wellbeing.


Photo credit: Ben Griffiths/Unsplash

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