A US research team led by Professor Keith Crnic at Arizona State University has proposed an enhanced way to support parents of children with an intellectual disability (ID). Working with parents in the critical early preschool period, when the stresses of raising a child with ID peak, they propose a six-week program targeting parenting stress to help parents be more receptive to their children, followed by a 10-week parenting training program.

Research has already firmly established that an effective way to support children with ID is to help the family to manage stress and to respond sensitively, with the aim of reducing problems with the child’s behavior. Evidence shows that support early in the child’s life is important. Helping the child develop social skills and supporting the child’s relationships at school are also important.

Stress is a particularly high risk for families raising a child with ID, and for children with ID, the risk of behavior disorders is 3 to 4 times higher than for typically developing children. In some cases, these behavior problems may affect the child’s outcomes more than the ID itself.

Parenting skills programs have already been successfully adapted to families of children with ID. Webster-Stratton’s Incredible Years Parent Training, Triple P, Parent Child Interaction Therapy, Signposts for Better Behavior and the RUPP Parenting Training Programme have all been adapted and well evaluated.

Parenting stress programs using mindfulness have been well evaluated for general use with parents and have been used with groups of parents of children with ID, though not specifically adapted in any way. Foremost among these is the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program. Research in the use of these programs with families with ID children is at an early stage. It has been observed, however, that they don’t always lead to reductions in children’s behavior problems.

In the light of all this, there’s a good case to be made for testing programs that combine support for parental stress with support for parenting skills.

Header photo: Darragh O’Connor. Creative Commons.

References

Crnic KA, Neece CL, McIntyre LL, Blacer J & Baker BL (2017), Intellectual disability and developmental risk: Promoting intervention to improve child and family well-being, Child Development