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This study was conducted to highlight the experiences of caregivers in the transition from Early Intervention to Early Childhood Special Education.

Caregivers Excluded from School Transitions

Caregivers feel left out when a child transitions to school services, they don’t feel included in the process anymore. There is a lack of communication between schools and caregivers, once the children make the transition to full-time school. A meta-synthesis approach was used to integrate, compare, and synthesize existing studies on caregiver experiences. Limitations and gaps were found in the various studies analyzed, and the authors provided some suggestions on how to improve the transition process.

Improving Communication Channels

Suggestions included improving communication between caregivers and teachers, collaboration, and family involvement in all the stages of the transition. Future research is recommended on the role of fathers as caregivers.

Notable Quotes:

“Caregivers felt empowered when they were involved in the transition process and the decision making.”

“Caregivers emphasized the importance of clear and open communication throughout the transition process (i.e., before, during, and after the transition to ECSE) as well as the need for good communication between the EI and ECSE providers.” 

“Listening to caregivers’ needs and experiences, supporting their advocacy skills, and making concerted efforts to address issues would lead to improved transition practices and ultimately better outcomes for young children with disabilities and their family as a whole.”

Personal Take

This research did not apply to either my context or my teaching division, but since the main theme was communication between caregivers, therapists and school personnel, I agree with the findings that there is a need to develop this quality and therefore build trust with the families of students with special needs.

Shekufeh Monadjem

Summarized Article:

Douglas, S.N., Meadan, H., and Schultheiss, H. (2021). A Meta-synthesis of Caregivers’ Experiences Transitioning from Early Intervention to Early Childhood Special Education. Early Childhood Education Journal (2022) 50:371–383.

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Key Takeaway
In order to ensure that the therapy a child receives at school is effective, the needs of both the child and the parent must be considered. When providing therapeutic supports, it is crucial that all stakeholders have a shared level of respect and trust and that a foundation of transparent communication is built to ensure the best possible outcome for children with special education needs. Therapeutic Supports for Children in Schools: Are We Addressing Parental Needs Too?
Frankie Garbutt

Parental Needs During School-Based Therapy

Murphy and Risser (Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine) acknowledge that parental/guardian engagement in therapeutic service for children with disabilities could optimize the delivery of those therapeutic services. Therefore, “this study examines what needs parents identify as important when engaging with school based therapies and how well these needs are being met.”  

As services and providers can vary across the U.S., the authors only recruited a small number of participants (initially 47) living in the state of Illinois. Moreover, the authors chose “to recruit parents of children with Individual Education Programs (IEPs), as opposed to parents of children with disabilities, to ensure that the children in question were receiving formal special education services.” All parents completed three questionnaires which provided the data for this study. The questionnaires provided are as follows: Child Demographics Measure, Needs of Parents Questionnaire, and Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire.

Questionnaire Results: Unmet Needs and Key Principles

The data revealed that parents perceived their needs related to their child’s school-based therapy as important but largely unmet. This seems particularly true for families of color. The authors highlight that “while these analyses do not provide insight into the disparities faced by specific racial and ethnic groups, they provide information about potential mechanisms for disparities, and can inform policies and practices to improve equitable access to school-based therapeutic services” as reflected in the literature relating to special education and disabilities services.   

Key principles which could be used to support parents are:

  • “positive, respectful, and understandable communication;
  • commitment to the child and the family; 
  • equal power in making decisions and implementing services; 
  • provider competence in implementing and  achieving goals; 
  • mutual trust; and 
  • mutual respect.”

Furthermore, the data from the study suggests that parents whose children displayed social-emotional and behavioral difficulties felt their needs were not met. “Parents who must manage a child’s challenging behavior, lack of social skills, and social isolation might also need additional support from service providers to  engage in therapies and to fully support their child.” 

Although the study identifies important aspects that ought to be considered when engaging parents with their children’s therapists, it also has limitations, namely a small sample size and a lack of diversity in the demographics of participants, as this study was limited to wealthy families rather than a range of economic backgrounds. In addition, the participants were already involved and knowledgeable about their child’s needs, and thus further studies would help to investigate representatives of the general population. 

Summarized Article: Murphy, A. N., & Risser, H. J. (2022). Perceived parent needs in engaging with therapeutic supports for children with disabilities in school settings: An exploratory study. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 123, 104183.
Summary by: Frankie Garbutt – Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate.

Key Takeaway: 

Students with a specific learning disability (SLD) have various factors that contribute to their social, emotional and behavioral challenges. This study shows that low family income, exposure to antenatal smoking, short breastfeeding period, and long screen exposure place children with SLD at a higher risk of behavioral problems. Teachers should be aware of this study and provide a multidisciplinary approach to supporting children with SLD. —Tanya Farrol

Approximately 5-15% of school children have a specific learning disability (SLD),1 which is described as “when children’s mathematical skills, reading, writing and self-expression skills are low according to their age and education level.”2 Students with SLDs have difficulties not only at school but also socially, such as limited interactions with peers and avoidance of social games that require attention. Early intervention is key to support these students with their emotional, social and behavioral issues.

The Role of Family Characteristics in Specific Learning Disabilities

This study examines the role that “family, natal, postnatal and childhood characteristics” have on the behavior of children with SLDs. It predicts that children with SLD have a “high risk of social, emotional and behavioral problems” relative to their peers. A Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) was translated into Turkish and administered to 278 families with at least one child diagnosed with an SLD.

 Here are the findings from the study:

  • Children from low-economic families experienced more emotional difficulties and stress. The literature supports this, stating that children growing up in a financially disadvantaged home experience increased exposure to problems, such as “unemployment, broken family, mentally unhealthy parents, and the use of improper education methods.”3
  • Children who are exposed to antenatal smoking have difficulties in their cognitive development in the long term. Neural images showed that the neural changes were “similar to ADHD and functional involvement” with prenatal exposure to smoking.4
  • Children who were breastfed longer (over 12 months) had improved cognitive development, less behavioral difficulties, and fewer social problems. This was the same for children diagnosed with SLD. If a child with SLD was not breastfed or only breastfed for a short amount of time, then the child was more likely to experience difficulties with peer relationships in the future.
  • Families who had more hospitalizations in early childhood had more comorbidity with SLD and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD). In the study, this comorbidity was significantly higher in children diagnosed with SLD before the age of 8. One hypothesis suggested by the authors was that children who are more hyperactive, get into more accidents and therefore are more likely to visit the hospital.
  • Prosocial behavior problems increased in children with SLD the younger they were exposed to their first screens. It is suggested that “inappropriate parental attitudes” and less monitoring of screen time, especially during preschool years, impacted cognitive development, emotional issues, and problems at school. Children were deemed to have long exposure to screens with greater than four hours per day.

In summary, financial issues, exposure to antenatal smoking, short breastfeeding period, hospitalizations, early first screen use, and sustained screen use during preschool years are associated with problematic behaviors in children with a SLD. In essence, the authors found that the families’ circumstances increased the risks for children with SLD. Schools need to be aware of this study and implement a multi-disciplinary approach to providing appropriate support.

Summarized Article:

Ayar, G., Yalçın, S. S., Tanıdır Artan, Ö., Güneş, H. T., & Çöp, E. (2021). Strengths and difficulties in children with specific learning disabilities. Child: Care, Health and Development, 48(1), 55–67. 

Summary by: Tanya Farrol – Tanya believes that the MARIO Framework is a personalized learning experience that develops skills and empowers learners to become an integral part of their learning journey.

Additional References:

  1. Karande, S., & Kulkarni, M. (2005). Specific Learning Disability: The Invisible Handicap. Indian Pediatrics, 42(4), 315–319. 
  2. Heller, T., Harris, S. P., & Gill, C. J. (2018). In Disability in American life an encyclopedia of concepts, policies, and controversies. ABC-CLIO, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC. 
  3. Lindström, M., Hansen, K., & Rosvall, M. (2012). Economic stress in childhood and adulthood, and self-rated health: A population based study concerning risk accumulation, critical period and Social Mobility. BMC Public Health, 12(1). 
  4. Holz, N. E., Boecker, R., Baumeister, S., Hohm, E., Zohsel, K., Buchmann, A. F., Blomeyer, D., Jennen-Steinmetz, C., Hohmann, S., Wolf, I., Plichta, M. M., Meyer-Lindenberg, A., Banaschewski, T., Brandeis, D., & Laucht, M. (2014). Effect of prenatal exposure to tobacco smoke on inhibitory control. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(7), 786. 

Key Takeaway:

Research has recently focused on how the Covid-19 pandemic has negatively affected the mental health of the population, especially amongst adolescents. But the flip side is now being observed — in families where strength-based parenting is practiced, young people are actually thriving and building resilience from the challenges imposed on them in the past two years. —Shekufeh Monadjem

This study by Allen et al. (2022) examined the psychosocial factors that “influence the capacity of adolescents to grow through the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Research focus on mental health

“As daily routines and social connectivity have become increasingly disrupted by mounting restrictions, both the media and academic research have focused on the mental health of populations affected by the pandemic.” Recent studies have “demonstrated symptoms of increased stress and mental illness in the general population when compared to pre-pandemic times, particularly in children and adolescents.”1 Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to being negatively impacted by major changes in their world, as they are going through a critical period of identity formation founded on building connections with peers. “It is not surprising, therefore, that the restrictions and disruptions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic have compromised the mental health of young people.”2

Positive stress-induced growth 

However, according to Ord et al. (2020),3 compelling research suggests that stress is not always a negative influence and that people, including children and adolescents, can grow and thrive as a result of times of stress. This idea has received less research attention, and according to Bruining et al. (2020)4 “if studies continue to focus on morbidity, an understanding of how people cope and grow through this pandemic will not be achieved.”

While schools, offices, and shops have been closed, walks in nature have continued to be permitted, with recent research indicating that “adolescents who spend more time engaging in outdoor activities during lockdowns experience smaller declines in subjective wellbeing and show greater resilience to COVID-19 related stress.”5 Increased family time, decreased daily stress, and a reduction in sensory stimulation are additional identified benefits of COVID-19, with these family, environmental, and lifestyle changes being linked to “a decrease in child and adolescent mental illness symptoms and an improvement in wellbeing.”4

Strength-based parenting (SBP)

Parenting plays a large role in how young people react to difficulties; SBP is a style of parenting that seeks to identify and cultivate positive states and qualities in one’s children. Parents who practice SBP: “(a) recognize what their child can do well and (b) support their child to practice and cultivate their known and unrealized strengths.”6 Research collected in teenage samples shows that SBP is “positively related to life satisfaction, self-confidence, subjective well-being, and positive emotions, and negatively related to (e.g., is protective against) anxiety, depression, stress, and negative emotions.”7 According to Unicef (2020),2 SBP plays an important role in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in which adolescents are experiencing increased symptoms of mental illness and parents and children are spending more time at home on account of lockdown. Teenagers are now relying heavily on their parents for vital sources of support. This heightened reliance on parents means that the style of parenting received during lockdown is likely to have a significant impact on the degree to which an adolescent is able to grow through the stress they are experiencing.


Overall, the study found that there was a direct correlation between strength-based parenting (SBP) and stress-related growth, particularly during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Summarized Article:

Allen, K. A., Waters, L., Arslan, G., & Prentice, M. (2022). Strength-based parenting and stress-related growth in adolescents: Exploring the role of positive reappraisal, school belonging, and emotional processing during the pandemic. Journal of Adolescence, 1–15.

Summary by: Shekufeh Monadjem –  Shekufeh believes that the MARIO Framework builds relationships that enable students to view the world in a positive light as well as enabling them to create plans that ultimately lead to their success. 

Additional References:

  1. World Health Organization (WHO). (2020). Adolescent mental health fact sheet.
  2. United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). (2020). “Living in limbo”: The views of young people in Australia at the start of the COVID‐19 pandemic and national response.
  3. Ord, A. S., Stranahan, K. R., Hurley, R. A., & Taber, K. H. (2020). Stress‐related growth: Building a more resilient brain. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 32(3), A4–A212.
  4. Bruining, H., Bartels, M., Polderman, T. J. C., & Popma, A. (2020). COVID‐19 and child and adolescent psychiatry: An unexpected blessing for part of our population? European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 30(7), 1139–1140.
  5. Jackson, S. B., Stevenson, K. T., Larson, L. R., Peterson, M. N., & Seekamp, E. (2021). Outdoor activity participation improves adolescents’ mental health and wellbeing during the COVID‐19 pandemic. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(5), 2506.
  6. Arslan, G., Allen, K.‐A., & Waters, L. E. (2020). Strength‐based parenting and academic motivation in adolescents during COVID‐19 pandemic: Exploring the effect of school belonging and strength use. [Unpublished manuscript].
  7. Jach, H. K., Sun, J., Loton, D., Chin, T. C., & Waters, L. E. (2018). Strengths and subjective wellbeing in adolescence: Strength-based parenting and the moderating effect of mindset. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19(2), 567-586.

Key Takeaway:

Have you ever thought back on your favorite teacher who had a big influence on your life? Or, maybe, there was a teacher who made you feel useless and terrible. For students with attention deficit disorder (ADHD) symptoms, their connection with teachers and the memories they have about them later on in their life may predict their perceived social support and self-efficacy. People with ADHD symptoms have lower self-efficacy compared to people without ADHD symptoms. Therefore, we cannot ignore how powerful our words and actions can be in the classroom, as they may impact our students’ lives for a very long time. —Michael Ho

ADHD Severity and Self-Efficacy

Schmidt-Barad, Asheri, and Margalit (2021) investigated the relationship between severity levels of ADHD symptoms and self-efficacy. They also examined the mediating role of positive and negative memories of teachers and social support on this relationship. There were two main hypotheses for this study: 

1) The severity levels of ADHD symptoms predict self-efficacy.

2) Memories of both ‘good teachers’ and ‘bad teachers’ and perceptions of social support will mediate the relationship between the severity of ADHD symptoms and self-efficacy outcomes.

Literature Review Takeaways

  • Since many students with ADHD have impulsive and disruptive behavior, they may experience negative and unstable relationships with their teachers. They typically consider their teachers as controlling, and their relationships as negative and challenging.1 
  • Schmidt-Barad et al. (2021) quotes Brinkworth et al. (2018), “student-teacher interrelations may stay as long-term memories, and teachers’ words may continue ringing in the students’ mind, affecting their self-efficacy as a competence indicator even many years afterwards.”2
  • Children and adolescents with ADHD who have experienced consistent difficulties during their studies often develop low self-efficacy, in addition to future low motivation, reduced success, and depleted effort investment.
  • Among students with ADHD, Schmidt-Barad et al. (2021) quotes Babinski et al., (2020) in stating that “their parents experience higher levels of prolonged caregiver strain that predict depressive mood.”3 Since their parents are spending a lot of time dealing with their own mental health, they would have less energy and time to support their children and hence their children may experience perceptions of reduced support.

Study Results

  • 319 adult participants between the ages of 18 and 35 volunteered to participate in the research. Participants responded to online questionnaires posted on Israeli social media as well as online students’ bulletin boards and Dean of Students’ boards across Israeli colleges. 
  • Results indicated that individuals with “higher levels of [ADHD] symptoms reported lower levels of self-efficacy, lower support from family and friends, more memories of bad teachers, and fewer memories of good teachers.”
  • It was found that the higher the severity of ADHD symptoms, the lower the self-efficacy. Not only did ADHD symptoms predict more negative memories of teachers but they also predicted less positive memories.
  • Both family support and positive memories of the ‘good’ teacher predicted support from friends and eventually self-efficacy. Memories of interactions with teachers may influence one’s self-efficacy and perceived social support long after graduating from school.


Firstly, this is a correlational research study, so there are concerns about causality among the research variables. In addition, the students’ memories of teachers may not be accurate; their perceptions may also be subjective. Finally, there are significantly fewer male participants from one geographical location; therefore, a more balanced gender proportion of international samples may enable more generalization of the results.

Summarized Article:

Schmidt-Barad, T., Asheri, S., & Margalit, M. (2021). Memories and self-efficacy among adults with attention deficit disorder symptoms. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 1-15.

Summary by: Michael Ho—Michael supports the MARIO Framework because it empowers learners to take full control of their personalized learning journey, ensuring an impactful and meaningful experience.

Academic researcher Dr. Malka Margalit participated in the final version of this summary. 

Additional References:

  1. Rogers, D. C., A. J. Dittner, K. A. Rimes, and T. Chalder. (2017). “Fatigue in an Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Population: A Trans-diagnostic Approach.” British Journal of Clinical Psychology 56 (1): 33–52. doi:10.1111/bjc.12119.
  2. Brinkworth, M. E., J. McIntyre, A. D. Juraschek, and H. Gehlbach. (2018). “Teacher-student Relationships: The Positives and Negatives of Assessing Both Perspectives.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 55: 24–38. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2017.09.002.
  3. Babinski, D. E., J. R. Mazzant, B. M. Merrill, D. A. Waschbusch, M. H. Sibley, E. M. Gnagy, B. S. G. Molina, and W. E. Pelham Jr. (2020). “Lifetime Caregiver Strain among Mothers of Adolescents and Young Adults with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity Disorder.” Journal of Family Psychology 34 (3): 342–352. doi:10.1037/fam0000609. 

Key Takeaway

Family-Professional Partnerships (FPPs) are a crucial part of empowering a child to reach their full potential. To leverage this trusting relationship, universities should consistently address building FPPs in coursework. Teacher education should include a variety of ways for candidates to interact with and practice nurturing FPPs to make this a reality in all classrooms. —Ashley Parnell

Benefits of & Barriers to Family-Professional Partnerships

“Of all the factors that determine student outcomes, family engagement is at the top of the list.”1 Collaborative partnerships between families and school professionals positively impact: 1) inclusive school culture; 2) effective instructional practices; 3) family well-being and advocacy; and 4) improved student learning and post-school outcomes. 

Although the value of family-professional partnerships (FPPs) has been recognized in both policy and educational research for over four decades, these trusting relationships are more of an exception than a reality.2 One significant barrier to FPP involves limited and inconsistent teacher preparation in university coursework. Moreover, there is a paucity of research identifying both practices to support the development of FFPs and pedagogy aimed at preparing teachers to partner with families. 

In response, this qualitative study builds upon the existing research by exploring special education faculty decision-making regarding designing and delivering FPP content and skills in U.S. institutions of higher education. Researchers conducted individual interviews with 18 participants, all of whom taught FPP strategies in special education teacher preparation courses and/or taught an FPP-specific course in a university special education teacher preparation program. Findings were analyzed according to three key themes present in the interviews. 

Key Themes & Associated Takeaways

Theme 1: FPP definitions and targeted skills

  • FPP was generally defined as educators and families working together to meet student needs. 
  • FPP skills that the participants targeted included communication, perspective-taking, self-awareness, and legally required skills (i.e., procedural safeguards, involving parents in decision-making). 

Theme 2: Rationale for prioritizing FPP skills

  • Participant definitions, perceptions, and personal experiences influenced the FPP skills targeted within their courses.

Theme 3: Strategies for teaching FPP skills

  • Participants used personal experience stories, case studies, parent interviews, class discussions/group work, and communication materials development (i.e., writing a parent letter, creating classroom websites) to teach FPP skills.

Improve Teacher Preparation to Enhance FPPs

Findings from this study align with current research suggesting the following implications for practice:

  • Consider sharing experiences through dynamic storytelling, a useful tool in engaging students and reinforcing key skills. 
  • Infuse FPP throughout coursework.
  • Partner with family systems (e.g., parents, siblings, extended family members), not just parents. 
  • Directly target and teach FPP skills, rather than relying on university students to learn by observing mentor teachers or reflecting on their own experience. 
  • Utilize and incorporate real-life teacher/family stories by inviting guest speakers, building role-play activities, creating case students, and encouraging self-examination (i.e., assumptions, values, biases).
  • Seek to understand and address family needs to better build trusting partnerships rather than spending time determining what constitutes family over- or under- involvement, which is counterproductive to forging FPP. 

Summarized Article:

Francis, G.L., Kilpatrick, A., Haines, S.J., Gershwin, T., Kyzar, K.B., & Hossain, I. (2021). Special education faculty decision-making regarding designing and delivering family-professional partnership content and skills in the U.S. Teaching and Teacher Education, 105, 103419.

Summary by:  Ashley M. Parnell — Ashley strives to apply the MARIO Framework to build evidence-based learning environments that support student engagement, empowerment and passion, and is working with a team of educators to grow and share this framework with other educators.

Additional References:

  1. Kaufman, T. (2019). Family engagement and student success: What the research. Understood.
  2. Haines, S. J., Francis, G. L., Mueller, T. G., Chiu, C., Burke, M. M., Kyzar, K., …Turnbull, A. P. (2017). Reconceptualizing family-professional partnership for inclusive schools: A call to action. Inclusion, 5(4), 234e247.

Key Takeaway

Culturally responsive parent advocacy programs, like FIRME, are necessary elements of any special education program. If parents aren’t informed, empowered, and prepared to advocate for their child’s rights, then the entire system suffers. School personnel lose a powerful partner and children miss out on the inclusion of the people who know their strengths and needs best. —Erin Madonna

Rios, Burke, and Aleman-Tovar’s study focused on Latinx families with children who have intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD), including autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The study inquired into one avenue, a pilot-test of the Familias Incluidas en Recibiendo Mejor Educación Especial (FIRME) advocacy program, for removing systemic barriers for Latinx families so that they are better able to ensure that their children are receiving the special education or disability services they deserve. 

Previous studies have shown that special education knowledge, empowerment, and advocacy are all aspects that can remove systemic barriers for families of students with disabilities.1-4 Increased parental stress can also impact a family’s preparedness to advocate for and access disability services.5 Increased levels of stress can be particularly challenging when other barriers exist simultaneously, such as language differences, lack of resources, inequitable power dynamics, or racism exhibited by school personnel. The study utilized both surveys (quantitative) and interviews (qualitative) to articulate the results of the FIRME program’s use with Latinx families of students with IDD.

Culturally-Responsive Approach

Knowing all of this and employing it successfully through an advocacy program within the Latinx community also requires culturally responsive practices, which the authors considered carefully in their recruitment phase as well as throughout the study. Prior to inviting parents to participate in the study, the authors volunteered with Latinx groups and conducted other research projects within the community in order to develop relationships of trust with the families. The sessions were organized in locations accessible by public transportation and participants were provided a small stipend for their time. The FIRME program was delivered in Spanish and families had the option to conduct their interviews in their preferred language.

Research Questions:

  • “Does FIRME affect parental perceptions of parent (i.e., knowledge, advocacy skills, empowerment, and stress) and child (i.e., unmet service need outcomes) outcomes among Latinx parents of children with IDD?
  • How do Latinx parents of children with IDD perceive the feasibility of FIRME?”

Author’s Hypotheses:

  • “The FIRME program would increase special education knowledge; advocacy; empowerment; and access to services and decrease stress.
  • The FIRME program would be feasible as demonstrated by: a high attendance rate; a low attrition rate; and positive participant satisfaction.”

Primary Findings:

  • Participants’ knowledge of special education, their sense of self-efficacy around issues of advocacy, and their feelings of empowerment all increased post-intervention.
  • The measured stress levels of participants increased over the course of the intervention, indicating that the FIRME intervention needs to better address participant stress moving forward. 
  • Despite a high attrition rate (53.5%), regular attendance and high rates of satisfaction were reported by those participants who completed the program. 

In the Families’ Words

A powerful aspect of this study is the inclusion of the parents’ personal reflections. While causation could not be established due to the lack of a control group, it is clear that the families involved perceived their participation in a positive light. As one family member stated, “I feel more confident to sit at the IEP meeting and disagree if something is said that I don’t agree with . . . and now, I could just ask questions as well, and if I don’t understand something, stop them [school personnel] and say, you know, I didn’t understand it . . . so, I feel really empowered.” One parent started a parent support group to share what she had learned, and another stated that “this [FIRME] will give me the opportunity in the future to help other parents of the Latinx community who have to know how to navigate the IEP.” Parents also reported feeling more supported post-intervention: “Yes, I really liked [hearing from other parents] because now I don’t feel that I am alone.”

Limitations and Implications for Future Research:

The authors note that, while promising, the findings should be considered with the following understandings and recommendations in mind:

  • This was a single group intervention study, so only correlational inferences can be made.
  • The sample size was small and the attrition rate was high.
  • Exit interviews were not collected which means the authors were unable to identify all of the reasons participants dropped out.
  • Future research using a randomized controlled trial design should be conducted to investigate the effectiveness of the FIRME intervention through a causal lens.
  • Longitudinal data should be collected in future studies to determine if the effects persist well beyond the end of the intervention.
  • Participant feedback should be considered when preparing future iterations, such as more sessions offered, the ability to have the FIRME coach review their child’s IEP with them in order to answer any questions unique to their situations, and the incorporation of stress reduction techniques.

Summarized Article:

Rios, K., Burke, M. M., & Aleman-Tovar, J. (2021). A Study of the Families Included in Receiving Better Special Education Services (FIRME) Project for Latinx Families of Children with Autism and Developmental Disabilities. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 1-15.

Summary by: Erin Madonna- Erin philosophically aligns with the MARIO Framework’s deeply rooted belief that all learners are capable, and she firmly believes in MARIO’s commitment to the use of evidence-based practices drawn from the field of multidisciplinary research.

Researcher Meghan M. Burke participated in the final version of this summary.

Additional References:

  1. Burke, M., Arnold, C., & Owen, A. (2018a). Identifying the correlates and barriers of future planning among parents of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 56(2), 90–100. https://
  2. Casagrande, K. A., & Ingersoll, B. R. (2017). Service delivery outcomes in ASD: Role of parent education, empowerment, and professional partnerships. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(9), 2386–2395.
  3. Cohen, S. R. (2013). Advocacy for the “Abandonados”: Harnessing cultural beliefs for latino families and their children with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 10(1), 71–78.
  4. Taylor, J. L., Hodapp, R. M., Burke, M. M., Waitz-Kudla, S. N., & Rabideau, C. (2017). Training parents of youth with autism spectrum disorder to advocate for adult disability services: Results from a pilot randomized controlled trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47, 846–857. s10803-016-2994-z. 
  5. Trainor, A. A. (2010). Diverse approaches to parent advocacy during special education home-school interactions: Identification and use of cultural and social capital. Remedial and Special Education, 31(1), 34–47.

Key Takeaway

Ayar et al. reveal relevant factors, including socioeconomic status, prenatal smoking, and screen time duration, associated with strengths and difficulties among children with specific learning disabilities. These results provide key takeaways for parents, educational institutions, and medical practitioners in adjusting their approach to raising and treating this group of children. —Emmy Thamakaison

Ayar et al. share their cross-sectional survey investigating the prevalence of certain social, emotional, and behavioural characteristics among children with specific learning disabilities (SLDs) and factors associated with such characteristics. Among a variety of surveys, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) was administered, which evaluated “Conduct Problems (CP),” “Hyperactivity and Inattention (HI),” “Emotional Symptoms (ES),” “Peer Problems (PP),” and “Prosocial Behaviours (PsB).” Associated factors investigated include family socioeconomic status, early exposure to smoking, breastfeeding duration, early hospitalization, and childhood screen use. 

Environmental factors

Compared to the wealthier subgroup, individuals from a low socioeconomic background were at a higher risk of displaying CP and externalizing problems (EP), which is the sum of HI and PsB. This is supported by existing literature, as low-income families are associated with “unemployment, broken families, mentally unhealthy parents, and the use of improper education methods.”1, 2, 3

Biological factors

Breastfeeding has been thought to play a major role in cognitive development during early childhood.4,5 The current study found that children who breastfed for more than 12 months were less likely to experience PP, compared to children who breastfed for less than 12 months. These results are consistent with that of Belfort et al. and Bernard et al., which suggest that language development, motor function, and cognitive abilities improve with increased breastfeeding duration.6,7 Another explanation for this study’s findings is that “breastfeeding [can] have a protective role in preventing children from maltreatment by their mothers,” which translates into rewarding relationships later in life.8

Furthermore, maternal prenatal smoking is significantly associated with ES, CP, EP, IP, PsB, and Total Difficulties (TD; The sum of all difficulties scores). The effects of prenatal exposure to toxins through smoking have been well documented, and the results of this study are well supported. Maternal prenatal smoking has an overall negative impact on cognitive development, children’s learning outcomes, and increasing neurological brain abnormalities.9, 10, 11 

Early childhood hospitalization and screen use

The way children with SLDs were raised beyond infancy also plays a role in influencing their characteristics. Children with SLD with hospitalization histories were associated with a higher risk of HI and EP. In explaining this increased risk of SLD-ADHD comorbidity in children with early hospitalization, the authors suggest that “the hyperactivity of children may lead to more hospital visits” or “frequent hospital visits may increase hyperactivity by creating a negative experience.”

Further, abnormal PsB scores were also associated with a decreased age of first screen contact, and CP and EP problems increased with an increased daily preschool screen exposure of ≥4 hours. Ayar et al. suggest that inappropriate parenting styles (ie. low parental acceptance of their children, parental neglect, or overprotective parenting) are associated with increased risk of screen time, and can lead to abnormal prosocial behaviours. Additionally, since hyperactivity-inattention was not found to be associated with “current screen contact time,” authors conclude that “screen contact time was more important for SLD in the preschool period of the study.” Early childhood is a critical period for brain development and screen time exposure may do more harm than good during those years, as it may cause “insomnia, mood swings, and problems at school.”12

Ayar et al.’s results provide thoughtful takeaways both on multiple levels: 

  • Practitioners should become well aware of the behavioural risks associated with different familial, biological, and environmental factors among children with SLD and may need to provide special support for such groups. The authors state that “combining medical treatment with psychosocial support will increase treatment success” for these children. 
  • On a systematic level, schools and educational institutions should become well aware of such risks as well and provide systematic support as needed. 
  • To-be or current parents are reminded that prenatal smoking and early screen time exposure may have negative effects on their child’s development and may need to adjust their parenting behaviours accordingly. 

Summarized Article:

Ayar, G., Yalçın, S. S., Tanıdır Artan, Ö., Güneş, H. T., & Çöp, E. (2021). Strengths and difficulties in children with specific learning disabilities. Child: Care, Health and Development, 48(1).

Summary by: Emmy Thamakaison—Emmy is an undergraduate student at Stanford University and an enthusiastic advocate of MARIO Framework.

Additional References:

  1. Lindström, M., Hansen, K., & Rosvall, M. (2012). Economic stress in childhood and adulthood, and self-rated health: a population based study concerning risk accumulation, critical period and social mobility. BMC Public Health, 12(1).
  2. Morrissey, K., & Kinderman, P. (2020). The impact of childhood socioeconomic status on depression and anxiety in adult life: Testing the accumulation, critical period and social mobility hypotheses. SSM – Population Health, 11, 100576.
  3. Vogel, L. (2019). Poor mental health, poverty threaten Canadian kids: report. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 191(38), E1065–E1066.
  4. Horta, B. L., Loret de Mola, C., & Victora, C. G. (2015). Breastfeeding and intelligence: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Paediatrica, 104, 14–19.
  5. Victora, C. G., Bahl, R., Barros, A. J. D., França, G. V. A., Horton, S., Krasevec, J., Murch, S., Sankar, M. J., Walker, N., & Rollins, N. C. (2016). Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. The Lancet, 387(10017), 475–490.
  6. Belfort, M. B., Rifas-Shiman, S. L., Kleinman, K. P., Guthrie, L. B., Bellinger, D. C., Taveras, E. M., Gillman, M. W., & Oken, E. (2013). Infant Feeding and Childhood Cognition at Ages 3 and 7 Years. JAMA Pediatrics, 167(9), 836.
  7. Bernard, J. Y., De Agostini, M., Forhan, A., Alfaiate, T., Bonet, M., Champion, V., Kaminski, M., de Lauzon-Guillain, B., Charles, M.-A., & Heude, B. (2013). Breastfeeding duration and cognitive development at 2 and 3 years of age in the EDEN mother-child cohort. The Journal of Pediatrics, 163(1), 36-42.e1.
  8. Taghıyev, A. (2020). Protective role of breastfeeding status, chronic health problems and temperament of children in maltreatment by mothers. Türk Pediatri Arşivi.
  9. Anthopolos, R., Edwards, S. E., & Miranda, M. L. (2013). Effects of Maternal Prenatal Smoking and Birth Outcomes Extending into the Normal Range on Academic Performance in Fourth Grade in North Carolina, USA. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, 27(6), 564–574.
  10. Cho, K., Frijters, J. C., Zhang, H., Miller, L. L., & Gruen, J. R. (2013). Prenatal Exposure to Nicotine and Impaired Reading Performance. The Journal of Pediatrics, 162(4), 713-718.e2.
  11. Biederman, J., Petty, C. R., Bhide, P. G., Woodworth, K. Y., & Faraone, S. (2011). Does exposure to maternal smoking during pregnancy affect the clinical features of ADHD? Results from a controlled study. The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, 13(1), 60–64.
  12. Domingues-Montanari, S. (2017). Clinical and psychological effects of excessive screen time on children. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 53(4), 333–338.

Key Takeaway

Training for Family Professional Partnerships (FPP) skills in institutions of higher education is essential to provide special educators with the skills needed in supporting families and fostering an inclusive school culture. The FPP skills taught in universities focus on communication, perspective-taking, self-awareness, and legally required skills through the use of case studies, stories, parent interviews, developing communication materials, and volunteering. —Tanya Farrol

Family Professional Partnerships

Building strong Family Professional Partnerships (FPP) is key to successful students in schools. This article explores ways that special education teacher training can support and develop positive partnerships.

Many special educators have found it challenging to develop positive FPPs, noting that families often feel “devalued and powerless”1 in Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings. While there are many barriers in fostering strong FPPs, most notably is a lack of teacher preparation in universities or higher education. Researchers found that “novice teachers generally feel unprepared to communicate and partner with families, and report that their teacher preparation programs did not address the issue effectively.”2

This study focuses on the decision-making processes of special education faculty in delivering FPP content and skills in higher education. The study collected data using a previous survey where respondents were asked if they would be interested in a follow-up interview study. 

Eighteen participants were interviewed over the phone according to the following protocol: a) demographic information; b) definition of FPP; c) skills and activities used in preparing students for building FPP; and d) preparing students for disputes with families. Based on the interviews, the answers were codified using the NVivo qualitative software program and organized into categories as indicated below.

Definition of FPP

FPP was defined as “educators and families working together to determine and meet student needs”. Here, the intention of FPP was to prioritize working with families as partners and capitalizing on the strengths and the expertise that families bring to a partnership.

FPP Skills

Communication skills are key in establishing relationships. Teachers should use multiple means of communicating with parents—face to face, emails, phone calls, letters, etc.—and ask parents how they would like to be contacted.  

Teachers should not only reach out to parents during IEP times but also when their child has a positive experience in the classroom. Teachers should actively listen to parents and make sure their body language indicates genuine interest in what families are telling them.

Perspective-taking skills focus on understanding the parents’ point of view in order to build relationships and empathy. Teachers may either deem a parent to be over- or under-involved in their child’s education and must learn to look beyond that as many families don’t “have the same tools and resources and knowledge that [they] have.” Also, there may be cultural barriers or other circumstances at home (e.g. additional children with disabilities at home or the parent might have a ‘bad’ experience in a previous IEP meeting) that result in families not being able to work effectively with an educator. Teachers need to make positive assumptions and meet parents where they are to work together.

Self-awareness skills focus on the biases educators have and what cultural beliefs they hold. Teachers need to determine and understand their values and beliefs and how this affects their decision-making processes.

Legal requirement skills focus on understanding the legalities of family involvement in IEP processes under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Teachers need to be trained in knowing the procedural safeguards, legal requirements of parental involvement, and the rights and responsibilities of all people as they relate to the child with learning needs. Additionally, teachers need to know how to mediate if there is conflict between the family and the school or teachers.

Strategies for Teaching FPP Skills

University professors used the following means to support learning FPP skills and building empathy and understanding:

  • Stories—to build empathy and develop communication skills with families
  • Case Studies—to delve into cultural sensitivities, how to respond to different situations, and how to actively listen to families
  • Parent Interviews—determining how parents would like to be contacted and supports they have had in the past
  • Class Discussion & Group Work—practice role-playing various situations and determine how to increase parental collaboration
  • Developing Communication Materials—providing a list of resources for support or templates for running an IEP meeting
  • Volunteering—creating opportunities to work with parents in a different environment (possibly non-academic)

The implications for this study are especially important as many universities need to institute a programmatic focus on teaching FPP skills. This means further research needs to be conducted into evidence-based FPP practices and research into how to enhance FPP in a virtual setting. This virtual perspective has become particularly evident during the pandemic when educators are relying on parents for information about their child and need strong partnerships in order to support the student in their learning. 

Summarized Article:

Francis, G. L., Kilpatrick, A., Haines, S. J., Gershwin, T., Kyzar, K. B., & Hossain, I. (2021). Special education faculty decision-making regarding designing and delivering family-professional partnership content and skills in the U.S. Teaching and Teacher Education, 105, 1–10.

Summary by: Tanya Farrol – Tanya believes that the MARIO Framework is a personalized learning experience that develops skills and empowers learners to become an integral part of their learning journey.

Additional References

  1.  Mueller, T.G. & Vick, A.M. (2019) Rebuilding the family-professional partnerships through facilitated Individualized Education Programs meetings: A conflict prevention and resolution practice. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 111.
  2. de Bruïne, E.J. et. al. (2014) Preparing teacher candidates for family-school partnerships. European Journal of Teacher Education, 37 (4), 409-425.