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Your Parenting Changes Everything For Some on Autism Spectrum

Photograph by Twenty20

How we parent leaves its mark on all children. And plenty of evidence shows kids raised with warm, responsive parents fare better educationally and emotionally.

Highly responsive parenting from mothers has also been shown to have better outcomes for children on the autism spectrum. Researchers from the University of Kansas argue in a new study that there is a link between specific parenting practices and the development of children with Fragile X Syndrome—the leading genetic cause of autism.

But are their conclusions a big "duh" or is it actually science?

Steven Warren, University of Kansas professor of speech-language-hearing: science & disorders, led a study of 55 affected boys and girls—ages 2 to 10. What he found confirmed that "sustained parenting behaviors," or maternal responsivity, has a positive impact on the communication and language development of children with FXS.

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During observation in each individual home, parents were asked to comment on a child's performance, requesting a verbal response and restating what the child said. This data was later used to determine the impact that maternal responsivity had on a child.

"Our researchers painstakingly coded each instance of maternal behavior toward their child," said Nancy Brady, associate professor of speech-language-hearing: science & disorders. "This allowed us to discover that Mom's behaviors, like responding to all communication, even nonverbal communication, has important implications down the road."

Warren and his colleagues published their findings, "The Longitudinal Effects of Parenting on Adaptive Behavior in Children with Fragile X Syndrome" in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2017.

FXS occurs when a segment in the FMR1 gene on the X chromosome called the CGG triplet repeat is lengthened from the normal 5 to 40 repeats to 200 repeats in people with full mutation FXS. This inactivates the FMR1 gene and prevents the production of a protein crucial to neural development. But even those with fewer repeats—both males and female carriers—are at risk for certain disorders later in life. Female carriers of the mutation in the FMR1 gene often develop some symptoms of the disorder such as anxiety and depression that sometimes increase over time.

Though previous comparisons claimed that 56 percent of children showed declines in adaptive behavior at or before the age of 10, this new study found evidence that these declines were either non-existent or substantially less for children with highly responsive mothers.

“There is no doubt that parenting plays a dynamic, cumulative role in human development in concert with biology and other environmental forces,” Warren said. “Our ability to understand these effects is greatly enhanced by long-term longitudinal studies that allow us to observe how these forces interact across development. Ultimately the knowledge gained from these studies should pave the way for increasingly effective interventions and treatments.”

But is any of this really science, or is it a big "duh" for parents raising kids with ASD? What does this mean for parents whose children have FXS?

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Nothing they don't already know.

Time is of the essence, and any improvements they are willing to make to enhance behavioral communication with their child will positively influence their future. In other words, parents need to be thoughtful, loving and patient—like a parent with an autistic child or any other parent for that matter.

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