The practice of early intervention (EI) is always evolving and changing as new evidence comes to light about how to support children and families. This brief summarizes a research study that examined perceptions and experiences of EI providers as they implemented a new service delivery approach. It is followed by strategies you can use to evolve your practices based on the findings in the study.
Research: What Do We Know?
Salisbury, C. L., Woods, J., & Copeland, C. (2010). Provider perspectives on adopting and using collaborative consultation in natural environmentsts. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 30(3), 132-147. (PDF, New Window)
Salisbury, Woods, & Copeland (2010) conducted a case study of six early intervention (EI) providers as they adopted the collaborative consultation approach. Collaborative consultation focuses on increasing caregivers’ capacity to support the needs of their children using strategies such as modeling, coaching, joint problem solving, reflection and feedback, and prompting with children and families during natural routines. For more information about collaborative consultation, read Collaborative Consultation in Natural Environments: Strategies to Enhance Family-Centered Supports and Services (PDF, New Window) by Woods, Wilcox, Friedman, & Murch (2011).
This study included providers from the four most common EI disciplines: occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech language pathology, and developmental therapy (or special instruction). Information was gathered from the providers through a survey, interviews and focus groups to understand their perceptions about and experiences with adopting and using the collaborative consultation approach during their visits with families.
Five types of support were identified that affected providers’ abilities to learn about the approach and implement it in their work, including:
- Reflection on one’s own practice
- Viewing their work environment as a “learning community”
- Having a broad definition of training
- Having organizational support
- Actual experience with the approach
Support at all levels of the organization was important, from the individual staff level up to the managerial and organizational levels.
Providers reported a commitment to adopting these valuable practices while also describing challenges. They found that it was easier to use these practices when families had specific requests for support, understood the approach and worked in the home. They also noted that using the approach was impacted negatively by other providers who had not adopted it (i.e., who were still using toy bags). They noted that changing practices was hard for both the provider and the family when both were used to interacting using more traditional practices. Implementing these practices was successful when providers perceived that they had appropriate training, had time to practice using the approach, and received support from their team and their organization.
Practice: How Can You Use What You Know?
We know that changing intervention practices is closely tied to your perceptions about the change as well as the support you receive. It also takes lots of practice and reflection to compare what you know and have always done with what you are learning. Based on this article, keep these strategies in mind as you evolve your practice:
Be aware of your own attitudes – how you think drives what you do. Be open to change.
Understand that changing practices is challenging and success is more likely with appropriate support – Changing practices is a personal and an organizational issue. Providers need understanding and support at all levels.
Initiate a change in practice with new families – It might be easier to try out new practices with new families, rather than changing how you work with a family you have supported for a while using a different approach.
Explain your practices to families – Help families understand why you are using new strategies and how these strategies will help them and their child. You will likely learn alot from them about what is effective and how best to implement the new practices.
Reflect on your changing practices – Reflection needs to be an active process. Think about what you do on each visit, why you did it, and how you could improve it. Ask a peer to tag along and provide feedback. Videotape a visit then critique it. Reflect with your team and support each other as you discuss successes and challenges. Put reflection time on your staff meeting agenda and do it with every meeting.
Seek out training – Attend a conference or workshop. Participate in or lead a staff development activity. Read an article or book about the practice. Taking an online module or course. Find a more experienced mentor.
Create a learning environment – Supervisors need to make time for staff reflection, practice and training. Make the change a shared priority and encourage staff to learn from and with each other.
What other strategies have you used to change and grow your practices?