Autism, fathers and communication

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: June 22nd, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Make room for daddy. Teaching fathers how to communicate and play with their autistic children pays dividends, for parents and kids alike.

Autism typically appears during the first three years of life and is characterized by problems interacting and communicating with others. Caring for an autistic child can be relentless and labor-intensive… a task overwhelmingly performed by mothers.

But University of Florida researchers say the training can help fathers assume a more active caretaking role with their autistic children. The findings were published recently in the journal Nursing Research.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least one-point-five million Americans have some form of autism, and it now affects one in every one-hundred-sixty-six births.

Researchers videotaped eighteen father-child pairs in their homes during playtime sessions before training and at key stages in the training process. The training emphasized language development and taught fathers to use everyday activities like playing with building blocks, puppets, cars and bubbles to interact with their children.

Fathers learned to initiate play through animated repetition of their children’s vocalizations and actions, and were told to follow the child’s lead. In the second phase, they waited for their child to respond before continuing play.

The approach increased the number of intelligible words youngsters spoke by more than fifty percent and helped dads get more involved in their care. And during one session, a child made eye contact with his father and said “Daddy” for the first time ever.