Parent training: supporting complex communication needs

Many early intervention centers are moving from a direct therapy model to a parent training/coaching model. This shift in philosophy can be challenging for many therapists, especially those who have heard “all you do is play!” from parents a few too many times. Teaching our intricate strategies to a parent with no background in language development is not easy!

Douglas et al., sheds some light on effective parent training and coaching. The study included four children with complex communication needs, multiple developmental areas impacted. At baseline, parents struggled to provide communication opportunities and often did not give adequate wait time. Parents then participated in training sessions based on the POWR method which involved the following steps:

  1. Prepare” a developmentally appropriate activity
  2. Offer opportunities for communication” (e.g. giving choices, asking questions, commenting)
  3. Wait for the child’s communication” (at least 5 seconds)
  4. Respond” appropriately to child’s communication
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The best part of this training? It was all provided online. Parents participated in the training by watching videos on various modules on their own time. Their skills were then assessed in person. Do you see kids at daycare? Do you work with kids whose parents clean the kitchen during therapy? Of course you do. Providing training for parents to watch on their own time might motivate them to become more involved in their child’s communication. 

After receiving this online training parents increased their communication opportunities provided to the child and increased their responses to the child’s communication. The children also showed increased communicative attempts. Parent feedback indicated that they would prefer to have in-person coaching sessions to go along with the online trainings (us too!), as well as more video examples of strategies being implemented. This is definitely something to consider if you’re working with a parent training model for your EI students.

Douglas, S. N., Nordquist, E., Kammes, R., & Gerde, H. (2018). Online parent training to support children with complex communication needs. Infants & Young Children, 30(4), 299–303.