Last year, Christy Goodyear was struggling with her five-year-old son Jesse’s meltdowns. Jesse has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Pandemic-induced lockdowns and raising a toddler, Jesse’s brother Asher, were adding to her enormous stress levels. Then, she and her family undertook a 12-week online pilot ASD program – ParentWorks-Spectrum.
ParentWorks-Spectrum addresses child social-communication skills, disruptive child behaviour, and parent wellbeing in a beneficially cohesive manner. It is for Australian parents and caregivers of children aged between 2 and 5 years 11 months with a diagnosis of autism (level 2 or 3).
Christy said: “It made such a positive impact on our family life in all areas. It wasn’t just how we related to Jesse, it was also how we were able to improve our relationship with each other and improve our marriage.”
Conceived by Professor Mark Dadds from the University of Sydney Child Research Behaviour Clinic, the program has recently been clinically evaluated and has received promising results. On this basis, a federally funded rollout of the program will commence this month.
“ParentWorks-Spectrum is evidence-based, but also free, accessible, and holistic in that it considers whole families’ needs – not just those of children with ASD. We believe these unique features contribute to the program’s success,” Professor Dadds said.
In a randomised controlled trial conducted in 2020, around 40 families who undertook ParentWorks-Spectrum reported significantly lower child behaviour difficulties, improved child social-communication skills, and reduced parental anxiety, stress, and depression compared to those who were waitlisted for the program.
They also reported higher self-efficacy and confidence in their parenting abilities, and less problems related to parenting. After completing the intervention, parents also reported more positive interactions with their child and better family functioning relative to the waitlist group.
The program is split into three modules:
Caregivers who participate in the program are invited to attend 12 individual (approximately 1.5 hour) family sessions with a psychologist, online via Zoom, over 12 weeks.
Christy Goodyear found the program’s bespoke nature particularly helpful: “When Jesse started day care in September 2019, his meltdowns began. ParentWorks-Spectrum taught him to change his thinking, for example, ‘you can be angry, but you can’t push or hit anyone’. This really helped Jesse express himself without hurting others.”
Other benefits Christy reported were learning how to have a consistent, non-emotional approach to parenting and discipline, and improved parental mental health.
As phase one of a national rollout, 120 families will be eligible to undertake ParentWorks-Spectrum, free of charge. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (02) 9114 4326 to register your interest.
In phase two, the program will be disseminated more widely, with potential for international reach. It will be evaluated on an ongoing basis.
Declaration: ParentWorks-Spectrum is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (grant no. APP1199689).