Controlled Trial of a Short-term Intensive Parent Training Program within the Context of Routine Services for Autistic Children in China


Z. Fang, J. M. Lachman, D. Qiao, and J. Barlow



Recent systematic reviews found limited rigorous research conducted to date of the effectiveness of parent training programs in reducing behavioral problems for autistic children in low- and middle-income countries. This study is aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of a short-term intensive parent training program for autistic children aged three to six in the context of routine service provision in China. A quasi-experiment was conducted involving the local implementing organization and using a waitlist control. Data were collected at baseline and immediate post-intervention. The primary outcome was child behavioral problems measured using the Child Behavior Checklist Externalizing scale. Between-group comparisons used a difference-in-differences design with propensity score weighting to reduce sources of bias. A process evaluation was undertaken in parallel to assess participant involvement, program acceptability, and delivery. The protocol was prospectively registered with (NCT04257331). The final sample size was 111 (treatment: 63; comparison: 48). Results suggest that the program was associated with improvements in child externalizing behaviors (b = -2.71, 95% CI [-5.23, -0.18]), parental mental health symptoms (b = -5.96, 95% CI [-11.74, -0.17]), over-reactive parenting (b = -0.63, 95% CI [-0.98, -0.27]), and parental knowledge (b = 2.08, 95% CI [2.07, 2.17]). Exploratory analysis of factors related to implementation indicated that baseline parental mental health was related to participant engagement, and that satisfaction and engagement levels were potentially linked to positive treatment effects. Findings suggest that short-term intensive parent training programs that are provided by trained non-specialists, could potentially be used as an alternative to traditional prohibitively costly services that are delivered intensively for consecutive years in low-resource contexts. Follow-ups are needed to investigate its long-term benefits.


Keywords: Autism, Parent training, Real-world evaluation, Propensity score, Difference-in-differences