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What is Riding the Rapids: Living with Autism or Disability?

Riding the Rapids: Living with Autism or Disability is a high quality, evidence-based parent-training course. It is designed for parents and carers of children and young people with an Autism Spectrum diagnosis or other complex needs, including severe learning disabilities.

Children with disabilities have far higher rates of behavioural difficulties than typically developing children. There is a high correlation between parental stress and coping, and levels of challenging behaviour and sleep disturbance in children. Riding the Rapids targets these areas to improve the quality of life and emotional well-being of children with disabilities and their families.

The course consists of 10 weekly sessions followed by a booster session 3 months later. Delivered in a group format, it is cost-effective and provides parents with the opportunity to meet and think together with other parents in similar circumstances.

The course enables parents to understand their child’s behaviour in the context of their additional needs, and apply strategies to support positive behaviours. It also helps parents to develop stress management strategies and confidence in managing their child’s behaviour. The course is collaborative, so that parents develop tools they can take with them and continue to apply once the intervention is complete.

Riding the Rapids differs from other parenting groups as it is applicable to children with a range of disabilities, and has been adapted to meet the needs of particular groups of children with additional needs


Riding the Rapids is a behavioural intervention based on well-researched principles of social learning theory and functional analysis.

Riding the Rapids was independently evaluated as part of a Department of Education funded study:

Managing Behaviour and sleep problems in disabled children: An investigation into the effectiveness and costs of parent-training interventions (2012) Beresford et al, Department for Education Research Report DFE-RR204

A full report of this study can be located at: HERE

Changes to children’s behaviour and parents’ sense of competence were compared for parents attending Riding the Rapids and a waiting list control group. The findings were that:

  • Parents made significant progress in attaining their goals for their child’s behaviour at the end of the course and at follow-up
  • Parents were more satisfied in their parental role, and this was maintained 6 months after the end of the course
  • Parents reported fewer problem behaviours after attending the course, and at 6 month follow up

Parent feedback

'It’s been brilliant – so much taught in such a fun way’

‘Wonderful – every session is so helpful’

‘Have really enjoyed being in the group, everyone supporting each other, you’re not on your own’

‘I have learnt so much – I will miss it’

‘(I am)..realising how far he has come and how much calmer I am

“I really enjoyed all the course, felt it has helped me to be a better mother and a more confident mother.”

Becoming a Riding the Rapids facilitator

Professionals can become a Riding the Rapids facilitator by attending a 2 day training course with Encompass Psychological Services LLP, and receiving a licence to run Riding the Rapids courses.

All facilitators receive a course manual and supporting DVD resources.
Potential facilitators should already have a sound understanding of behavioural theory and principles, in addition to experience of working with children with disabilities and their families. This ensures that the quality of the intervention is protected and maintained.

Facilitators could therefore come from the following professional backgrounds:

  • Clinical and Educational Psychologists
  • Learning Disability Nurses
  • Mental Health Practitioners
  • Teachers in specialist roles/ provisions
  • Specialist Social Workers
  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists
  • Speech and Language Therapists

We welcome queries from professionals from other backgrounds.

Please see the 'Training Courses' section for further information.


Riding the Rapids: Living with Autism or Disability is the intellectual property of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.