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March 12, 2019

Early interventionists swear by coaching model despite challenges

Researchers at Michigan State University partnered with researchers at the University of Illinois to investigate the coaching model, used by early intervention service providers, to understand how it works in naturalistic settings as well as understand how service providers perceive the practice. 

Early interventionists work with young children with developmental disabilities and delays and provide support for families in helping those children. To successfully provide this support, they often use the coaching model, which is recommended and used widely in the field. 

Coaching allows for families to take away practices and techniques that are taught, and implement them when the early interventionist is not there, said Sarah Douglas, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at MSU. This allows for children to receive more intervention. 

“The idea is that, if a practitioner just came in and worked with a kid 30 minutes a week, the kid would get 30 minutes of care a week,” she said. “But if the practitioner comes in and teaches the family how to do it, the opportunities for that child to grow and develop in that particular area are endless. The coaching model is really crucial to that child’s development and progress.”

Despite the importance of the coaching model, practitioners are generally not trained in the practice, which provides challenges and makes the model difficult to implement. Douglas said those who want to work in early intervention should have coursework on engaging families and helping them to reflect. 

Getting a family to be engaged in the process can be challenging, she said. Some families don’t understand the coaching model and some may be apprehensive to it.

“You have to develop a relationship with the family and help them understand that you’re there to help their child, and you’re going to do that by teaching them how to support their child,” Douglas said. “You coming in and not working directly with the child doesn’t mean that you don’t care about the child; it means that you care about the child so much, because you want the caretakers to be successful with the child. Some parents are not prepared for that. They’re expecting you to come in and kind of fix the child.”

Reflection is another imperative step in the coaching model. It allows for caregivers to think about what they’ve done and how they can do better in the future, or what they’ve done well and how they can continue to do that in the future. Caregivers can better help the child progress after they’ve reflected and figured out what works and what doesn’t. 

“That’s really an important practice for caregivers to engage in long term,” Douglas said. 

Research found that while many early interventionists aren’t trained to use the coaching model, they frequently utilized the five coaching characteristics, including joint planning, observation, action, reflection and feedback, and would consider them all important.

Most importantly, early interventionists found it crucial to be flexible and willing to adapt.  

“I’m a different coach with every family,” said one participant. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach when you’re working with families of young children. You have to be adaptable in this job, or you won’t last very long.”

The study published in the September edition of the journal Infants and Young Children.

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