Improving Family Functioning Following Diagnosis of ASD: A Randomized Trial of a Parent Mentorship Program

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is known to impact family functioning and decrease family quality of life. Unfortunately, many parents of children with ASD are left to coordinate their child’s care with little ongoing support or education. There is a growing interest in parent-to-parent (P2P) programs to provide family supports with the goal of improving family outcomes. This study investigates a P2P program for families of children newly diagnosed with ASD that combines (1) family-centered action planning, (2) education on accessing complex systems of care, and (3) ongoing mentorship by a trained Parent Mentor for six months. In a randomized controlled trial, the intervention was given to a group of parents (N = 33) and compared to a waitlist group (N = 34). The intervention consisted of development of an individualized action plan and training on navigating service systems immediately after entry into the program, followed by monthly check-ins by a trained parent mentor for six months. An intent-to-treat analysis examined the impact of CPM on family quality of life, family functioning, service utilization, and program acceptability and satisfaction. The intervention improved satisfaction with disability-related services and prevented rigidity in family functioning. Services used outside of school increased for both groups but did not meet the national recommendation. Participants described the program as highly acceptable and indicated that it improved their emotional wellbeing. The CPM program may be a useful tool for helping families cope with their child’s ASD; although, additional research is needed to confirm these effects.

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