How parents, siblings can become teachers for special needs children

August 29, 2017

Parents and siblings of children with limited speech who took an innovative training program created by a Michigan State University scholar significantly improved their ability to communicate with the special needs youth.

Now, MSU research provides the first scientific evidence that the can improve communication in families with children with complex communication challenges. The findings are published in the journals Communication Disorders Quarterly and Infants & Young Children.

Sarah Douglas, a former special education teacher and principal investigator on the project, developed the training to fill a gap. While online training exists for parents of children with autism, none had been created for the broader population of special needs children with limited verbal abilities.

"That's why I'm doing this," said Douglas, assistant professor in MSU's Department of Human Development and Family Studies. "I want families to feel like they have some control over the future of their child. That they have some control over how to navigate this world that not very many people know how to navigate, and they don't have to sit around waiting for an expert to come to their house to give them 20 minutes of their time."

The MSU researchers tested the training with children ages 2-6 and their families. The children had disorders such as Down syndrome and cerebral palsy; they communicated through mostly limited speech and by making noises, gestures, facial expressions and through other nonverbal means.

Parents took the training online, in six sessions that took about two hours total to complete (they could take the training in a single sitting or multiple sittings and go at their own pace). The training was interactive and included video examples, handouts, questions and application activities.

Siblings took the training in person, though Douglas plans to put it online in the future. The siblings ranged in age from 7 to 15.

Among other general strategies, the training encourages parents and siblings to offer the special needs child lots of communication opportunities; to comment on what's going on during a particular activity (instead of just asking questions, which is typical); and to wait for the child's response after a question, as children with developmental delays can take longer to respond.

Two published studies on the parent training found, essentially, that the online program significantly improved parents' ability to communicate with their child with special needs, which, in turn, improved the child's communicative frequency with the parent.

"Parents really are their child's first teacher," Douglas said. "With the training, we found that parents of children with complex communication needs can be effective communication partners."

A third published study on siblings had a similar finding - that brothers and sisters were able to more effectively communicate with their with special needs and the child with special needs was able to communicate more frequently.

Douglas hopes to continue the research with a full intervention, where each family member would be provided with training to support a child with a communication disability.

"What I try to do is bring awareness to families - that you have such an impact on how far your child comes," she said. "You are the one who's around them the most. Your children are the ones who play and interact with them for their whole life. The teachers are only there for a short time."

Explore further: Research shows paraeducators need more training in speech language services

Related Stories

Research shows paraeducators need more training in speech language services

July 17, 2013
According to Sarah Douglas, an assistant professor of special education, paraeducators do not typically receive training that helps them support children with cognitive, motor or communications needs. Research by Douglas ...

Can telehealth fill gap in autism services?

May 24, 2016
Parents struggling to find and afford therapy for their child with autism may eventually be able to provide that therapy themselves with the help of telehealth training.

Study finds disruptive children do not inspire similar behavior in their siblings

March 6, 2017
A new Tel Aviv University study published in Child Development finds that the disruptive behavior of an individual child does not encourage similar behavior in their brothers and sisters.

Parent training on ADHD using volunteers can help meet growing treatment needs

May 24, 2017
Using volunteers to train parents concerned about attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in their children can improve capacity to meet increasing ADHD treatment needs, finds a new study by NYU's Steinhardt School ...

Recommended for you

Faulty cell signaling derails cerebral cortex development, could it lead to autism?

September 20, 2017
As the embryonic brain develops, an incredibly complex cascade of cellular events occur, starting with progenitors - the originating cells that generate neurons and spur proper cortex development. If this cascade malfunctions ...

Asthma drug tied to nightmares, depression

September 20, 2017
(HealthDay)—The asthma medication Singulair (montelukast) appears linked to neuropsychiatric side effects, such as depression, aggression, nightmares and headaches, according to a new review by Dutch researchers.

Parents not confident schools can assist child with chronic disease, mental health

September 18, 2017
If your child had an asthma attack during the school day, would school personnel know how to respond?

Premature infants may get metabolic boost from mom's breast milk

September 14, 2017
The breast milk of mothers with premature babies has different amounts of microRNA than that of mothers with babies born at term, which may help premature babies catch up in growth and development, according to researchers.

Predicting atypical development in infants at high risk for autism?

September 12, 2017
New research from the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) identifies a potential biomarker that predicts atypical development in 1- to 2-month-old infants at high ...

Explaining bursts of activity in brains of preterm babies

September 12, 2017
The source of spontaneous, high-amplitude bursts of activity seen in the brains of preterm babies, which are vital for healthy development, has been identified by a team led by researchers at UCL and King's College London.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.