Using Parent-Mediated Intervention to Treat Autism Symptoms in Infants

  • Amy Tanner

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neuro-developmental disorder characterized by persistent and significant impairments with social communication and a tendency to engage in non-functional restricted and repetitive behaviours which begin in early childhood. Due to an increase in prevalence and lack of specialist services, many regions or entire countries are facing bottlenecks throughout the process of early detection, early screening, diagnosis and beginning services, with the average age of diagnosis currently lying between 4 to 5 years of age. This late age of diagnosis and access to services is very worrying, given many early signs are observable by the child’s first birthday and research has consistently reported that the start of intervention is directly linked to long-term outcomes, with a start prior to two years of age demonstrating the greatest potential to reach optimal outcomes.
The present thesis addresses the challenges of early detection and early intervention through a four-fold process. First, a systematic literature review was conducted to establish the earliest behavioural manifestations of autism by identifying the earliest symptoms and signs which can then guide future screening and assessment tools. Second, a pilot study was conducted to assess the feasibility and acceptability of using a 12-week parent-mediated intervention model to increase social communicative behaviours while decreasing autism symptoms in ‘at risk’ infants. Third, a main study employing a multiple baseline across participants research design was conducted to assess the efficacy and social validity of the 12-week intervention program through a parent-mediated service model with symptomatic infants. Lastly, the 12-week program was translated into parent-friendly language, providing parents with a step-by-step procedure manual which can be used to complement professional intervention or for parents to use while awaiting a comprehensive diagnosis or start of services. All four components have uniquely contributed to the field of behaviour analysis and especially very early parent-mediated autism intervention, as well as to the broader field of autism detection during infancy.
Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorKaterina Dounavi (Supervisor) & Karola Dillenburger (Supervisor)


  • autism
  • infants
  • early detection
  • parent-mediated intervention

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