Dr. James MacDonald 332 Mimring Columbus, Ohio 43202 Phone/Fax 614 447-0768 macdonaldj86@gmail.com

Communicating Partners

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Helping Parents Help Children. Programs for Parents, Therapists & Educators


The Communicating Partners program has been adopted by the Logan County preschool programs in central Ohio as a model for over 200 children with developmental disabilities since 1997. After receiving a series of in-service training workshops on CP, the school supported a one-year study of the effects of the model on a group of children and both their parents and teachers. The program educated parents and professionals together toward one major goal: to increase the rate, duration and social quality of the interactive life of a group of young children with ASD. The program combined clinical and educational approaches to train parents and school personnel to have playful and communicative relationships with 19 preschool children, each with 1-3 years delays in social, communicative adaptive, cognitive and emotional skills. The purpose was to extend the Ohio State study above) to a school setting in which the child's teacher would be included in the training as well as the parents. The reasoning was that for pre-conversational children with ASD, a developmentally appropriate curriculum would have a focus on social and communicative skills before the focus became academic skills. The notion was that, in order for children to effectively use academic skills, they first needed to have the social and communicative abilities to use those skills in daily living.

A series of video mediated training workshops introduced Communicating Partners to 19 families as well as to the teachers and assistants in the ten classrooms. The notion was to train one or two children in each classroom along with their responsible teachers. The intention was for the teachers then to extend the program to other children in their classrooms. One speech therapist and one parent with several years experience with CP met regularly with the family and classroom to reinforce the program by showing and discussing a series of video training tapes on the five responsive strategies. The author then met monthly with the family and school staff for further coaching and program design. An interesting feature of the design was that the child's social and communicative goals were the same for the family as for the classroom, so that the child's major learning environments would be relatively consistent in their expectations of the child. Bother teacher and parents also attempted to follow similar strategies in helping the children to be more interactive.

Evaluations of pre and post video taped samples, autism profiles, developmental assessments and parent and teacher surveys indicated that 14 of the 18 children progressed socially, communicatively, or linguistically, with several children progressing in two or three areas. The parents of the progressing children learned to be more developmentally matched and responsive, exhibiting the role of play partner more than of didactic teacher. The changes in the children were more marked with their parents than with their teacher in the complicated context of the classrooms. The findings suggest that children may need to learn one-to-one communicative relations before they will generalize them to the competitive and stimulating nature of a classroom.

Interviews before the program revealed that most of the parents believed that only professional therapists and teachers could help their children communicate and that they did not value highly the developmental value of their own home play with their child. Fourteen parents reported at the end that they had changed their relationship with their children from one care taking and teaching to one of a frequent play partner, finely tuned to the child's current interests and abilities.

A summary of the findings follows:

Before the program, the children generally:

Before the program, the parents generally:

After the one school year ( August to June), while the children changed to varying degrees, each of the 14 was judged ( independently by two professionals and two parents based on video samples and reports) to have made the following changes:

Eleven of the children reduced their non-social and aggressive behavior. Three did not. In fact, these three appeared more aggressive as the moved from social isolation to more interaction with people. At least seven began to show humor and eight became spontaneously imitative in daily life. Of the eight who began using words, four were using short sentences. While three of the verbal children used words mainly to label things and meet their needs, five children show marked pragmatic improvement in that they began to talk for social reasons like commenting, replying, greeting, and conversing.

After the program the parents also changed in varying degrees with most of the parents making at least the following changes:

When parents were asked how they applied the program at home, there were as great a variety of answers as there were families. It was clear that the lives of the families are spontaneous and unpredictable with few routines; consequently the programs focused on teaching parents to integrate the strategies into natural daily activities. Ten parents reported that they used the social strategies within daily activities and that the major change was that they now played much more in the child's world than they had before. Most parents reported that they could now teach their child to communicate best by playing with them. They believed that they needed to be the ones who prepared their children for school. While some parents began playing like their children early in the program, others took a few months to be comfortable acting like their child and to overcome their habits of directing and controlling their children.

While both the children and parents showed progress, the test of the program lay in the observation of the quality, emotion, and reciprocity of the relationships between parents and children. In most families, the parent and child moved from the role of lone observer to one of interactive participant, from a one-sided picture to a reciprocal give and take style of relationship, from a mutually unresponsive relationship to one in which parents and children were sensitively aware and responsive to each others interests an abilities, from a relationship in which parents and children behaved very differently to a relationship reflecting more joint activity and a wide range of social intentioned, from a relationship that was mainly task oriented with little affection to one with animation, enjoyment and emotional attachment. The relationships not only involved more interactions, but they lasted longer, required less prompting and appeared more conversational.

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Dr. James MacDonald 332 Mimring Columbus, Ohio 43202 Phone/Fax (614)447-0768 macdonaldj86@gmail.com