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Family therapy for autism spectrum disorders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Article number CD011894
Pages (from-to)1-35
Number of pages35
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number5
Published16 May 2017


  • Family therapy for autism_SPAIN_Publishedonline16May2017_GREEN VoR

    Family_therapy_for_autism_SPAIN_Publishedonline16May2017_GREEN_VoR.pdf, 468 KB, application/pdf

    Uploaded date:14 Sep 2017

    Version:Final published version

    This review is published as a Cochrane Review in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017, Issue 5. Cochrane Reviews are regularly updated as new evidence emerges and in response to comments and criticisms, and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews should be consulted for the most recent version of the Review. Spain, D. et al., 'Family therapy for autism spectrum disorders'. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017, Issue 5. Art. No.: CD011894, DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD011894.pub2

King's Authors



Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are characterised by impairments in communication and reciprocal social interaction. These impairments can impact on relationships with family members, augment stress and frustration, and contribute to behaviours that can be described as challenging. Family members of individuals with ASD can experience high rates of carer stress and burden, and poor parental efficacy. While there is evidence to suggest that individuals with ASD and family members derive benefit from psychological interventions designed to reduce stress and mental health morbidity, and enhance coping, most studies to date have targeted the needs of either individuals with ASD, or family members. We wanted to examine whether family (systemic) therapy, aimed at enhancing communication, relationships or coping, is effective for individuals with ASD and their wider family network.

To evaluate the clinical effectiveness and acceptability of family therapy as a treatment to enhance communication or coping for individuals with ASD and their family members. If possible, we will also seek to establish the economic costs associated with family therapy for this clinical population.
Search methods

On 16 January 2017 we searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, 10 other databases and three trials registers. We also handsearched reference lists of existing systematic reviews and contacted study authors in the field.
Selection criteria

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-RCTs investigating the effectiveness of family therapy for young people or adults with ASD or family members, or both, delivered via any modality and for an unspecified duration, compared with either standard care, a wait-list control, or an active intervention such as an alternative type of psychological therapy.
Data collection and analysis

Two authors independently screened each title and abstract and all full-text reports retrieved. To enhance rigour, 25% of these were independently screened by a third author.
Main results

The search yielded 4809 records. Of these, we retrieved 37 full-text reports for further scrutiny, which we subsequently excluded as they did not meet the review inclusion criteria, and identified one study awaiting classification.
Authors' conclusions

Few studies have examined the effectiveness of family therapy for ASD, and none of these are RCTs. Further research studies employing methodologically robust trial designs are needed to establish whether family therapy interventions are clinically beneficial for enhancing communication, strengthening relationships, augmenting coping and reducing mental health morbidity for individuals with ASD and family members.

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