The children received the therapy with their parents or caregivers, who were more likely to demonstrate positive parenting behaviors than parents in the control group, authors of the new research published in JAMA Pediatrics found.
Approximately 13% of children have some form of developmental delay (DD) and more than half of these children also have at least one mental health disorder, which makes behavior problems a common and ongoing challenge, Daniel M. Bagner, PhD, a psychologist at Florida International University, Miami, and colleagues wrote.
Clinic-based interventions such as parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT) have been effective for improving behavior in children with DD, the researchers said. PCIT involves in-session caregiver coaching using a 1-way mirror and a wireless earpiece worn by the caregiver.
Barriers to the use of PCIT, especially in marginalized and low-income communities, include transportation, clinician shortages, and stigma-related concerns about a clinic visit, the researchers wrote. Technology now allows for Internet-delivered PCIT to reach more children and families, but its effectiveness for children with DD has not been well studied.
In the new study, the researchers randomized 150 children with DD and externalizing behavior problems to up to 20 weeks of Internet-delivered parent-child interaction therapy (iPCIT) or to referral as usual (RAU, the control group). The children were randomized after completion of early intervention services within 3 months of their third birthday, and participated in the sessions with a parent or caregiver. Most of the participants were from economically disadvantaged households and underrepresented ethnic backgrounds.
The iPCIT intervention was conducted weekly with a remote therapist and lasted for 1-1.5 hours; approximately half of the families received the intervention in Spanish.
The primary outcome was rating on the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and assessment of children and caregivers using the Dyadic Parent-Child Interaction Coding System, fourth edition (DPICS). Assessments occurred at baseline and at week 20 (post treatment), with follow ups at 6 and 12 months.
Scores on the CBCL in the iPCIT group decreased from a mean of 61.18 at baseline to 53.83 post intervention. Scores for the control group started at 64.05 and decreased to 59.49 post intervention. At 6-12 months, the scores for both groups remained stable.
Children who received iPCIT with their parent or caregiver also showed significantly lower levels of externalizing behavior problems, compared with the RAU controls post treatment, and at 6-month and 12-month follow-ups based on the Cohen d measure of standardized effect size for differences between groups.
Significantly more children in the iPCIT group showed clinically significant improvements in externalizing problems at post treatment, compared with the RAU group (74% vs. 42%; P < .001) and at 6 months’ follow-up (73% vs. 45%; P = .002). However, the differences from baseline were not significantly different between the two groups after 12 months, which suggests that the effects may wane over time, the researchers noted.
In addition, the rate of child compliance with parent commands, as measured by a cleanup task, approximately doubled by the 12-month follow-up among children in the iPCIT group versus an increase of approximately one-third in the RAU group.
For secondary outcome measures related to caregiver behaviors, the proportion of observed positive parenting behaviors increased in the iPCIT group during the course of the intervention (postintervention odds ratio, 1.10), and the proportion of controlling and critical behaviors decreased (postintervention OR, 1.40). Harsh and inconsistent discipline decreased in both groups based on self-reports, but the decrease was steeper in iPCIT families.
iPCIT did not have a greater impact than RAU in reducing caregiver stress. The researchers wrote that they were not surprised by the lack of stress reduction “given mixed findings on the impact of parenting interventions on stress in caregivers of children with DD.”