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

Video game improves balance in youth with autism

November 21, 2017
Playing a video game that rewards participants for holding various "ninja" poses could help children and youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) improve their balance, according to a recent study in the Journal of Autism ...

Molecules in spit may be able to diagnose and predict length of concussions

November 20, 2017
Diagnosing a concussion can sometimes be a guessing game, but clues taken from small molecules in saliva may be able to help diagnose and predict the duration of concussions in children, according to Penn State College of ...

Potential new autism drug shows promise in mice

November 14, 2017
Scientists have performed a successful test of a possible new drug in a mouse model of an autism disorder. The candidate drug, called NitroSynapsin, largely corrected electrical, behavioral and brain abnormalities in the ...

Breastfed babies are less likely to have eczema as teenagers, study shows

November 13, 2017
Babies whose mothers had received support to breastfeed exclusively for a sustained period from birth have a 54% lower risk of eczema at the age of 16, a new study led by researchers from King's College London, Harvard University, ...

Obesity during pregnancy may lead directly to fetal overgrowth, study suggests

November 13, 2017
Obesity during pregnancy—independent of its health consequences such as diabetes—may account for the higher risk of giving birth to an atypically large infant, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health. ...

Working to reduce brain injury in newborns

November 10, 2017
Research-clinicians at Children's National Health System led the first study to identify a promising treatment to reduce or prevent brain injury in newborns who have suffered hypoxia-ischemia, a serious complication in which ...

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.