Parents Are the Child’s Earliest Teachers

For the parent and for the child—time is critical. Studies show that children can make tremendous gains with a comprehensive, early intervention behavioral program (EIBI) as early as possible in a child’s life that focuses on reducing problem behaviors while providing intensive one-to-one teaching in a number of developmentally appropriate areas that include parent involvement (Eikeseth, 2009; Eldevick, et al., 2009; Granpeesheh, et al., 2009, Rogers, et al., 2008).

It is a disservice to the child and to the family if the parents are not intimately involved in their child’s EIBI program. Why? If a behavior intervention team works with the child in the home and in the community with no input and no participation from the parents, how will the parents know what to do when the behavior team leaves? If the behavior team creates successful conditions for the child to learn but the parents are not privy to these successful conditions, how will the child improve in the presence of his or her parents?

It is critical that education and training for the child’s parents or primary caregivers be built into each EIBI program. Research shows that parent training results in consistent positive benefits in the form of reductions in parental stress, improvements in parent-child relationships, and can lead to significant time-efficient provision of interventions and gains for children with developmental disabilities (Johnson et al., 2007).

Parent and family involvement in early intervention is critical in many ways, including setting goals and priorities for treatment, locating support for themselves, and receiving training to be effective teachers (Rogers, et al., 2008).

From the very beginning, from the first day of the assessment and continuing throughout the lifespan of the program, the effort between the behavior intervention team and the parent is collective.  Skills are carefully chosen that the child can frequently and naturally access, that are important to the family and family functioning, and so that generalization to different people, different settings, and different situations takes place.

Program and intervention selection is a continuous and essential endeavor, and initial programming considers prerequisite skills that are anticipated to build into more complex skills. Standardized tests that are norm referenced are useful in that they provide a direct measure of the child’s performance of the behavior of interest.  There is great value in criterion-referenced and curriculum-based assessments that indicate exactly which skills a child needs to learn and which skills have been mastered over time (Browder, 2001; Howell, 1998).  Interventions must be individualized for each child, must be evidence-based, and must target multiple basic and functional skills, verbal and non-verbal communication skills, complex social skills, parenting skills, and problem behaviors in multiple settings and in a natural teaching environment. Problem behaviors that occur with parents throughout the day should be primarily targeted.

Ultimately, over the course of a 2-year EIBI program with each child, it is expected that the programming will help increase parenting skills, increase the child’s learning, help catch them up to their developmental age, and prepare them for their educational career.


Browder, D.M. (2001).  Curriculum and assessment for students with moderate and severe disabilities.  New York: Guildford Press.

Eikeseth, S. (2009). Outcome of comprehensive psycho-educational interventions for young children with autism. Research in developmental disabilities, 30, 158-178.

Eldevik, S., Hastings, R. P., Hughes, J. C., Jahr, E., Eikeseth, S., & Cross, S. (2009). Meta-analysis of early intensive behavioral intervention for children with autism.  Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 38(3), 439-450.

Granpeesheh, D., Tarbox, J., & Dixon, D. (2009).  Applied behavior analytic interventions for children with autism: A description and review of treatment research. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, 21(3), 162-173.

Howell, K.W. (1998).  Curriculum-based evaluation: Teaching and decision making (3rd ed.). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Johnson, C. R., Handen, B. L., Butter, E., Wagner, A., Mulick, J., Sukhodolsky, D. G., Williams, S., et al. (2007). Development of a parent training program for children with pervasive developmental disorders. Behavior Interventions, 22, 201-221.

Rogers, S. J., & Vismara, L. (2008). Evidence-based comprehensive treatments for early autism. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 37(1), 8-3.

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