Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Giving Voice to Parents of Young Children with Challenging Behavior

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Giving Voice to Parents of Young Children with Challenging Behavior

Article excerpt

In recent years, there has been increased interest in the science of child development, particularly within the early childhood years (i.e., birth to 5 years) and specifically pertaining to children who exhibit challenging behavior. With greater understanding of brain-behavior relationships and prevention services for young children has come a renewed interest in the developmental significance of early life experiences (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000). Armed with an increasingly large body of neuroscience research (e.g., O'Connor, Deater-Deckard, Fulker, Rutter, & Plomin, 1998; Plomin, Fulker, Corley, & DeFries, 1997; Rutter et al., 1997), researchers have begun to ask questions about the efficacy of prevention services and supports for young children, particularly those with challenging behavior (i.e., behaviors that interfere with "optimal learning or engagement in prosocial interactions with peers and adults"; Powell, Fixsen, & Dunlap, 2003, p. 2). Despite such an agenda, the voices of parents often remain unheard, regardless of widespread acknowledgment that parents play a critically important role as their child's most important teachers (Lucyshyn, Dunlap, Homer, Albin, & Ben, 2002). Not only are parents their children's most important teachers, they are also experts in their children's lives, with stories to share that can shed light on the science of child development and its implementation within our local communities.

The current study was designed to give voice to a sample of parents raising young children with challenging behavior. The purpose of this qualitative investigation was to share detailed parent reports of experiences obtaining services and supports for their children within their local system of care. Using an ecological framework, parent reports are presented and discussed in relation to an analysis of community-based services and supports for children and families within the same geographic area (Raffaele Mendez & Hess, 2003).

A SYSTEMIC PERSPECTIVE ON CHALLENGING BEHAVIOR

Several national organizations and consortiums of researchers have jointly assessed the political, social, and economic impacts of child development (e.g., National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000) while others have promoted the use of specific evidence-based practices designed to prevent challenging behavior and promote social-emotional development (e.g., the Center for Evidence-Based Practice: Young Children with Challenging Behavior, http:// www.challengingbehavior.org). This body of research endorses several prevention-oriented concepts, such as: (a) human relationships serve as the building blocks of healthy development; (b) children develop along trajectories characterized by continuities, discontinuities, and important transitions; (c) children's growth and development is influenced by the presence of risk and protective factors; and (d) meaningful outcomes may be obtained through implementing evidence-based interventions designed to both teach skills and promote inclusion into a wider range of natural community environments (Bailey et al., 1998; Dunlap & Fox, 1996; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine; Powell et al., 2003; Smith & Fox, 2003). Given the fact that over 200,000 children and families received early intervention services and supports in the United States in 1997 to 1998, each with an average total expenditure of $15,740 per child (Hebbeler, Spiker, Mallik, Scarborough, & Simeonsson, 2003; Levin, Perez, Lam, Chambers, & Hebbeler, 2004; U.S. Department of Education, 2001), documentation of meaningful system-level as well as child- and family-level outcomes has become an issue of national significance and critical need (Bailey, 2000, 2001; Bailey et al., 1998; Carta, 2002; Guralnick, 2000; Turnbull & Turnbull, 2000). This is particularly true with respect to young children with challenging behavior, who often require high levels of service and have inconsistent or poor outcomes. …

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