Parents Taking Action: A parent-training program for Latino families of children with autism spectrum disorder

Sandra Magaña, PI; Miguel Morales, Co-PI

Children with autism spectrum disorder often have challenges in social communication and with restrictive and repetitive behaviors that can interfere with daily functioning. Without intervention, these impairments can persist over time and lead to worsened child and family outcomes. For Latinxs, the largest minority group in the United States and the fastest growing autism population, there are significant challenges to accessing autism treatments and services. These challenges lead to treatment and service disparities. Information about autism and evidenced-based interventions has not been very accessible to Spanish-speaking immigrant families and there are many barriers to accessing key services and interventions. Latinx immigrant parents of children with autism urgently need information, education and training on autism, key services, and evidenced-based strategies for working with their children.

We developed a culturally competent educational program for Latinx parents of children with autism or social communication deficits and evaluated it using a randomized control trial. The intervention drew from existing knowledge about autism, treatments, services and strategies and made it accessible to the Spanish speaking Latino community in a culturally competent and cost-effective way. For example, the curriculum was delivered by community health educators, or promotoras de salud who themselves were parents of children with autism. Participants were Latinx mothers of children between ages 2 and with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or social communication deficit. Participants received 14 weeks of home visits by the promotora who delivered intervention content using an interactive approach.

The first part of the intervention included understanding autism symptoms and diagnosis, evidenced-based interventions, advocacy, reducing stress, and explaining their child’s behaviors to others. The second part of the intervention educated parents on how to reduce problem behaviors and improve their child’s social and communication skills. Measures of caregiver outcomes (family empowerment, caregiver efficacy and use of targeted intervention strategies) and child outcomes (autism related symptoms, services received) were collected pre and post intervention and at one additional follow-up point.

At this time we have results from the California arm of the study. Compared to the control group, the intervention groups saw a significant decrease in autism symptoms and an increase in typical and evidence-based services for children. We found significant increases in parent outcomes knowing your rights, accessing community, overall family empowerment and efficacy in using strategies. Click on this link to view the article:

López, K., Magaña, S., Morales, M., & Illand, E. (2019). Parents taking action: Reducing disparities through a culturally informed intervention for Latinx parents of children with autism. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 28(1), 31-49. DOI: 10.1080/15313204.2019.1570890