Context of Inquiry
The role of the family in early intervention has long been highlighted. It is said that the participation of parents in early intervention is vital to making sure that children with disabilities have the support they need (Bruder, 1998; Harry, 2008). Parents that are involved in the early childhood education of their children are also better able to understand the link between what children learn at school and what happens at home and able to play a prescribed role in their children’s education (Friend & Cook, 2014).
Studies have also found that the relationship between school and homework is critical to promoting further learning and is an integral part of children’s overall development (Friend & Cook, 2014). The current study is related to this assertion as it includes an investigation of the perceptions of parents in Saudi Arabia toward collaboration with educational professionals in early intervention.
The findings and the implications of this study will help to extend early intervention services beyond the classroom, which means that children will have a more positive learning experience both at home and in school. In addition, the contents of the study will be useful in helping parents understand their children’s competencies and/or deficiencies through early intervention. Additionally, such programs and collaborations with parents have been shown to put students in a stronger position, one that improves their confidence and learning outcomes.
Indeed, by understanding the perceptions of parents toward collaboration with education professionals, this study will address, at least in part, the gap that exists in the research regarding parent-professional collaboration. The lack of synergy between parents and professionals in early education has been of significant concern (Bruder, 1998; Friend & Cook, 2014; Harry, 2008). The current study also will provide a basis upon which teachers can build to better engage with parents during early intervention as it will obtain a better understanding of how to best communicate and engage with parents by studying their perceptions on the topic.
Additionally, with this knowledge of perceptions, teachers will be in a better position to positively influence the learning environment for children with special needs. A strong understanding on role construction for parents will also be a focus. If parents believe their involvement is limited to the home environment, these parents will be active only in activities in the home, such as homework for children in school age. An easy way to communicate the role of parents is for the school to be clear from the start regarding their expectations from parents and their support of the key role parents play (Hirano, 2016).
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to investigate the perceptions of Saudi parents toward collaboration with education professionals during early intervention. Scholars say that collaboration between different education stakeholders has several positive effects on children with special needs (Trivette, Dunst, & Hamby, 2010). For example, such collaborative practices enable parents to develop parenting strategies that may improve the educational outcomes of their children (Karst & Van Hecke, 2012). Notably, when parents and education professionals collaborate on early intervention, all parties are more likely to understand children’s weaknesses and strengths and to formulate strategies to support and address these traits, as well as to address pertinent issues in the learning environment (Dempsey & Keen, 2008).
Rationale for the Study
It is important to examine the role collaboration plays in supporting successful early intervention because the law requires that parents and teachers work together to improve children’s educational outcomes (McKenzie, 2009). For example, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (2004) outlines the obligations of educators toward families in the educational setting (Viviani, 2016; Yell, 2019).
However, it is important to recognize that collaboration between education professionals and parents should not only be encouraged because it is a legal requirement, but because it is the right thing to do (Yell, 2019). It is important to examine the role that collaboration plays in supporting successful early intervention because it helps to build a community of caring individuals working collaboratively to support the educational achievement of children with special needs (Sayeski, 2009). Through the framework examined by the current study, it is possible to integrate the input of different types of education stakeholders in early intervention (Robinson &Buly, 2007).
The role of parental involvement in successful early intervention is further supported by research studies that have highlighted the important role parents play in improving education standards in society (Bang, 2018; Farran, 2000; Friend & Cook, 2014). For example, Robinson and Buly (2007) suggested that parents are the most powerful catalyst for improving education standards of children with disabilities. Relative to this view, promoting collaboration between parents and teachers has many advantages that may be linked with improved educational outcomes, such as lower dropout rates, improved test scores, and higher levels of self-esteem among children with disabilities (Y. L. Goddard, Goddard, &Tschannen-Moran, 2007).
The most significant pattern of influence on parental involvement is parents being present in the classroom. To increase involvement and interest by parents, it is important that teachers and other school staff encourage and welcome parents into their children’s schools (Hirano, 2016).
Research Gap and Significance of the Study
Given the increased attention, early childhood special education experts have given to collaboration in the learning environment (DEC, 2019), it is important to investigate the perceptions of families toward collaboration with education professionals in special education. There is a gap in the research regarding the parents’ perceptions of collaboration in early intervention in special education in Saudi Arabia. Most past studies have focused on investigating teachers’ perceptions regarding several forms of collaboration with little focus on family perceptions (Guise, Habib, Thiessen, & Robbins. 2017; Hang & Rabren, 2009).
Collaboration for the purposes of this study is defined as a multidimensional interaction between various educational participants — i.e., students, teachers, parents, and others. Collaboration is the heart of collaborative teaching and parental involvement (Florian, 2017).
This past emphasis on teachers rather than parents means that the existing research on collaboration in early intervention is biased toward highlighting only the views of professionals and teachers toward collaboration with each other, rather than considering the impact and contribution of collaboration with parents especially in the recent years (M. Friend, personal communication, August 23, 2019).
Consequently, this gap in the literature has made it difficult to address the contribution of families to the practice as a strategy for improving learning outcomes of preschool children with special needs. Despite evidence that shows the important role of families in supporting children’s learning development, researchers continue to focus only on collaboration between education professionals rather than considering the role that parents should and can play in such collaboration in early intervention (Brownell, Ross, Colón, & McCallum, 2005).
Parental involvement in education of children with disabilities has been shown to have short-term and long-term benefits for children and their families. Long-term benefits include, but are not limited to, increases in parent-student long-term educational planning, higher student achievement, decreases in behavioral changes, increases in student attendance, and improvement of school programs and the overall school ecosystem (Bruder, 1998; Friend & Cook, 2003; Harry, 2008; Idol, Nevin, & Paolucci-Whitcomb, 2000; Simpson & Envy, 2015).
There are other non-quantifiable improvements as well, including that students are more receptive to common messages of the importance of such things as: education, working hard, creative thinking, and being empathetic toward others (Lohman, Hathcote, &Boothe,2018). Moreover, when reviewing the Regulations of Special Education Programs and Institutes (RSEPI, 2001), one finds that Saudi Arabia does not have laws and policies that specifically reference requirements for early intervention. Moreover, this issue is compounded by the fact that the RSEPI was passed relatively recently, in the last 20 years, and it has not yet been fully implemented throughout the country (Alquraini, 2013).
Currently there are only three public Early Intervention (EI) centers in Saudi Arabia near the major population centers of Riyadh, Makkah, and the eastern province. The activities in these centers are very comprehensive including (e.g. identifying eligible children for services, planning programs, providing services based on children needs, mentoring progresses, transitioning programs) and these activities consider the main components in early intervention in Saudi Arabia (Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia, 2017 ) Furthermore, since these centers operate independently, there is no collaboration or sharing of metadata between the centers (Felimban,2019).
However, there are several private early intervention centers around the country. This indicates that Saudi Arabia should be focusing on not only implementing policies on early intervention but also on raising awareness of this issue. Another factor is that the Saudi education system does not require schools to invite parents to be a part of their children’s educational experience. This is again problematic as collaborative practices have been shown to be very beneficial, not only for children but for the parents and the community as a whole.
From a social and cultural point of view, studies have shown that Saudis have compassion and empathy toward those with disabilities in general. This attitude arises from the belief that disability iskismet, or God’s will, and that supporting and helping those with disabilities is a religious obligation of Islam. Still, there is a lot of room for improvement in terms of redefining policy and standardizing practices (Felimban,2019).
In addition, most of the empirical investigations involving collaboration between family members and professionals in early childhood special education have been based in the United States. Therefore, little is known about the experiences and perceptions of parents in non-western countries, such as Saudi Arabia, regarding collaboration in early childhood education. Indeed, the literature is almost silent on how parents or families in non-western countries perceive collaboration in the inclusive learning environment or how culture may influence the quality of partnerships among education stakeholders in early childhood education.
In addition, no study has explored the perceptions of family members toward collaboration for children with special needs from birth to six years of age in Saudi Arabia. Consequently, there is a clear gap in the literature, which is centered on understanding how parents in Saudi Arabia view collaboration with education professionals for children with disabilities aged six and under. The current study will address this gap to provide a balanced and holistic view of collaboration in early intervention by focusing on investigating families’ perceptions of collaboration in early childhood development in Saudi Arabia. The significance of this investigation will be discussed below.
Significance of Study
Although Saudi Arabia has made significant gains in promoting collaboration and inclusivity in the education sector over the last 40 years, the government still needs to do more to further inclusion efforts and support collaboration (Murry & Alqahtani, 2015). Therefore, it is necessary to conduct the proposed study, as there are concerns about the effects of anti-inclusion practices (segregation) on the educational progress of children with disabilities in Saudi Arabia. Such concerns could be partly rooted in the perceptions of families toward collaboration, which again underscores the need to review this subject as it pertains to collaboration with other early childhood special education stakeholders.
The aim of the proposed study is to understand the perceptions of families in Saudi Arabia toward collaboration with professionals in early childhood special education. Relative to this aim, the investigation will be divided into two parts. The first will examine the research aim utilizing quantitative methodology. Here, three key goals will guide the study:
- Understanding the current trends in the perceptions of Saudi Arabian parents toward collaboration in early childhood special education. In this area, the researcher will seek to establish current patterns of engagement between families and professionals in early intervention and, as a result, to comprehend their perceptions toward collaboration.
- The second area of analysis to be investigated will be the potential barriers that exist between Saudi families and professionals in early childhood special education.
- Lastly, this study will seek to determine whether demographic differences among Saudi families affect their perceptions of collaboration in early childhood special education.
Collectively, these issues will form the framework for the quantitative part of the investigation.
The second part of the study will investigate the issues relating to the research aim qualitatively. Here, three key issues will be investigated as well.
- The first centers on investigating the influence of cultural factors and communication styles in understanding the perceptions of Saudi Arabian parents toward collaboration in early intervention.
- Comparatively, the second part of the investigation will focus on understanding factors that promote collaboration between families and professionals in early intervention services in Saudi Arabia.
- The last area of investigation for the qualitative research part of the study will explore the main issues that hinder parents’ collaboration with professionals in early intervention services in Saudi Arabia.
The research aim and a list of the research questions appear below.
The aim of this research was to understand the perceptions of families in Saudi Arabia toward collaboration with professionals in early childhood special education. This study was designed to examine these fallowing questions. The questions 1-3 are research questions guiding the survey. The questions 4-7 are research questions guiding the interview.
- What are the perspectives of Saudi Arabian parents’ current perceptions of collaboration with professionals in early intervention?
- What are the greatest potential barriers to Saudi Arabian parents collaborating in the delivery of early intervention services?
- Are there significant differences in Saudi Arabian parents’ perceptions of collaboration related to demographic differences in the population?
- What are the perceptions of Saudi Arabian parents regarding collaboration with professionals? What are the effects of cultural influences on Saudi parents’ collaboration with professionals? What communication methods are most effective for use in early intervention services in Saudi Arabia?
- What factors promote parents’ collaboration with professionals in early intervention services in Saudi Arabia?
- What factors hinder parents’ collaboration with professionals in early intervention services in Saudi Arabia?
- What are parents’ perspectives about the results of their child’s early intervention programming?
Definitions of Terms
In early intervention, this refers to a model where two or more parties involved in a child’s education come together to create positive outcomes that are otherwise unattainable if only one of the parties was acting alone (Tzivinikou, 2015). Usually, collaboration allows stakeholders to work together by addressing the learning challenges affecting children (Friend & Cook, 2014). The Council for Exceptional Children’s Division of Early Childhood(DEC) (2015) defines collaboration as “interactive relationships between adults, such as family members and professionals who work together to achieve mutually agreed upon outcomes/goals” (p. 5). This process gives parents and professionals the space to look for new means of creating a positive working environment for children with special needs (Tzivinikou, 2015).
Early Intervention (Early Childhood Special Education)
The US and Saudi Arabia have different definitions of early intervention. In Saudi Arabia, the concept refers to the provision of education services for children aged below six years (Merza, 2012). Consequently, only those who meet this criterion receive early intervention services. Comparatively, in the US, early intervention refers to the provision of the same services for children who are aged between zero to nine years (Biersteker & Kvalsvik, 2019).
Like Saudi Arabia, early childhood special education in the US is operationalized by providing educational services to children who suffer from developmental delays or disabilities (Kamerman & Gatenio-Gabel, 2007; Merza, 2012). Furthermore, these services are not only provided to affected children but also to their families. The guidelines for providing early intervention services in Saudi Arabia are also similar to those used in the US because they both focus on assessing a child’s developmental capabilities in four key areas: social, emotional, physical and mental development (Kamerman & Gatenio-Gabel, 2007; Hadidi & Al Khateeb, 2020).
These zones of development are often thoroughly assessed and the results used to inform decisions about a child’s educational progress from one stage of development to another (Merza, 2012). The main kinds of educational resources provided within this educational setting are speech and physical therapy (Hadidi & Al Khateeb, 2020). Furthermore, the eligibility criteria for user identification are dependent on the evaluation of a child’s skills and capabilities.
Broadly, early intervention services in Saudi Arabia are designed to achieve two key objectives: implementing a set of initiatives dedicated to early childhood development and implementing projects that align with the objectives of the ministry of education (Merza, 2012). Therefore, early interventions services in the kingdom help teachers to know what children are expected to learn and how they should apply the knowledge gained.
Broadly, the process of taking precautions to address a child’s educational and developmental needs in the learning environment occurs from a very early age (birth to six years). The aim of early intervention is to support children with disabilities and their families in addressing their specific needs to support their success from an early age (Meisels & Shonkoff, 2000). This type of service provides support to families or parents of children in their preschool years to identify key strengths and weaknesses that may affect their children’s educational development. Family members may receive several types of support, including: therapy, counseling, and universal health services (among others) (Bruder, 2010).
Parents of Children with Special Needs
This term refers to parents of children with disabilities (Bruder & Bologna, 1993). For the purposes of this study, this term will refer to those who exercise parental control over pre-school children with special needs. These may be biological parents (DEC, 2015) or guardians, such as adoptive or foster parents, grandparents, and even, in some cases, caretakers.
Special Education Professionals
Education professionals who work with children with disabilities who are certified early intervention specialists. Their work is to provide education services to children with special needs. These people often have specialized educational, academic, or professional qualifications to do their work (Robinson & Buly, 2007). For example, a person with a master’s degree in special education who is involved in providing services to children in a special education classroom would fit this description. Such professionals may include: teachers, therapists, speech language professionals, and administrators (Robinson & Buly, 2007).
This chapter contains two main parts. The first is a review of the literature on collaboration in early intervention. The review begins with a definition of early intervention and its importance. The review moves on to provide an overview of several areas, such as: early intervention services in Saudi Arabia for young children; the importance and outcomes of family involvement; the role of collaboration between parents and teachers’ forms of collaboration in early intervention; and, factors that promote or hinder collaboration.
The second part of this chapter will present a systematic review of the literature on parents’ perceptions of collaboration with professionals in early childhood special education. The review explores the practices on collaboration in this area that have been examined by the literature and outlines parents’ perspectives on the practices that are currently in use. The systematic review included four themes, which are leadership and decision-making, communication, attitudes of parents and teachers toward collaboration, and parents’ and teachers’ roles in collaboration.
It is important to restate that this investigation will help to operationalize the legal requirements guiding collaboration between families and professionals in early childhood special education in Saudi Arabia. Unlike in the United States, where federal laws exist that govern the provision of special education services and accommodations to children with disabilities, in Saudi Arabia different jurisdictions have unique laws that govern how parents should be included in the early intervention process.
This means that one school in one region might operate under a law, which requires that parents be included in developing the Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP), whereas a school in a neighboring district might be governed by a law that states that teachers may choose to construct IFSPs by themselves, without input from anyone else, including the parents. However, the goal of undertaking this review is not limited to understanding how education stakeholders might fulfill their legal responsibilities.
It is clear from the literature that investigating the perceptions of families toward collaboration with education professionals in early intervention is a necessary and appropriate area of investigation as well. This study will help to highlight how to build a community of caring individuals that are involved in educational endeavors of children with disabilities.
The overriding framework that supports the implementation of this research plan may also be instrumental in promoting collaboration among all stakeholders, not just between families and professionals in early childhood special education. Specifically, this study may help to better inform education professionals regarding the importance and benefits of collaboration with parents in support of the learning outcomes of children with disabilities. Research supports the important role of promoting stakeholder integration, particularly those studies that highlight the significance of families in improving education standards in society (Brownell, Adams, Sindelar, Waldron, & Vanhover, 2006).
Through the development of a reliable framework for increasing collaboration between education stakeholders in early intervention, it may be possible to reduce dropout rates, improve test scores, and improve levels of self-esteem for children with special needs (Goddard et al., 2007). It is essential to understand early intervention and its importance to the educational development of children with special needs.
What Is Early Intervention? Why Is It Important?
According to Bruder (2010), early intervention involves taking precautions to address a child’s educational and developmental needs early to allow teachers and/or parents to take remedial action, if there is a need to do so. This type of service is aimed at providing the necessary support for children with disabilities and their families/parents in the preschool years to improve their children’s learning outcomes. Such types of support may include therapy, counseling, or even universal health services (Brooks-Gun, Berlin, & Fuligni, 2000; Brownell, Adams et al., 2006).
Historically speaking in the United States, the earliest formal efforts to connect special educators with general educators dates back to 1975, with the funding of the Regular Education Pre-service Grants program, which later became known as Deans’ Grants. These were designed to locate education reform within the offices of the dean at various schools and colleges around the country. This was the beginning of developing standardized frameworks for early intervention and to integrate children with disabilities into the public-school system (Pugach, Blanton, &Correa, 2011).
Early intervention is important because it plays a role in the future development of a child by addressing needs during the first six years of the child’s life, the critical years of neurological development (Bruder, 2010). The importance of this growth phase in children’s lives is underscored by the sensitivity of a child’s cognitive development process to the daily experiences in the school setting (Bruder, 2010). Therefore, it is not enough for children just to be exposed to a good environment at school, the home environment is also critical to their development (Lim, 2015). Consequently, there needs to be a collaborative framework that allows education professionals and families to work together to create a good environment for children to learn both within and outside of school.
Experts in early childhood recommend that parents and teachers address developmental delays early in a child’s life, before these can worsen and affect other areas of development (Barrett, Flynn, & Welch, 2018). This is the essence of early intervention: to encourage families and teachers of preschool children to introduce the right interventions early in a child’s life to provide the best environment for educational development (Whitbread, Bruder, Fleming, & Park, 2007). Indeed, when early intervention is implemented in the right way, children may more easily meet their learning goals at a time when their minds are receptive to new knowledge. Therefore, early intervention can have significant impact on a child’s developmental trajectory (Whitbread et al., 2007).
Researchers such as Whitbread et al. (2007) have highlighted the importance of family involvement in early childhood intervention. They say that parental involvement in education is critical to making sure that children have the necessary support in learning (Whitbread et al., 2007). Families that are involved in their children’s early childhood education understand the link that exists between what their children learn at school and what happens at home. Studies have also emphasized that the link between the school and home environments is critical both to promoting learning and as an integral part of children’s overall development (Y. L. Goddard et al., 2007; Whitbread et al., 2007).
The current study investigates the link between school and home by examining the availability of resources that children need in early childhood intervention. Therefore, it will help to expand understanding of the importance of early childhood education activities beyond the classroom. Through such practices, children can have a more positive experience learning both at home and at school. Consequently, the findings of this study will be useful in helping parents to understand their children’s competencies and deficiencies, which puts them in a strategic position to help them improve their children’s confidence and learning abilities (Schultz, Sreckovic, Able, & White, 2016).
Collaboration also helps to minimize the gap between families and teachers, which is an area of significant concern to stakeholders (Schultz, Sreckovic et al., 2016). Therefore, the current study will provide a basis on which teachers may better engage parents in the development of early intervention practices to support their children with special needs. By understanding how to communicate or engage with parents in the inclusive learning environment, teachers are in a better position to positively influence the learning environment.
Overview of Early Intervention Services in Saudi Arabia
The introduction of special education services in Saudi Arabia, during the late 1950s, saw authorities provide early intervention services in segregated settings (Alzahrani, 2017). However, currently, these services are offered in three key settings: resource rooms (for children with mild disabilities), segregated public institutions (for children who have moderate or intellectual disabilities), and private institutions (Alzahrani, 2017).
In this regard, both public and private organizations provide early intervention services. Alzahrani (2017) further supports this assertion by saying that public and private institutions in Saudi Arabia provide different kinds of services to children with disabilities. Private institutions commonly offer counseling, speech-language, social advisory, occupational and physical therapy services, while public institutions offer speech-language, transportation, psychological counseling and health services (Alzahrani, 2017).
The main difference between the two sets of institutions described above is that public institutions provide follow-up services after graduation but private institutions do not.
Early intervention services in Saudi Arabia differ from those offered in the US because of the lack of a systematic framework for distributing educational resources. For example, in a dissertation report authored by Merza (2002), it was said that the rights and responsibilities of parents during EI implementation are restricted to their “guardianship rights” and the quality or availability of EI services in the kingdom. This information is often focused on informing parents about their children’s’ survival and medical needs. Similarly, the formal services offered in this context may involve the provision of financial aid and an increase in access to technical services (Merza, 2002).
The provision of early intervention services in Saudi Arabia differs from the US in terms of the type of institution and setting involved. In line with this assertion, a doctoral dissertation authored by Almalki (2013) showed that ECD services in Saudi Arabia are provided in integrated and self-contained pre-school settings. The latter context is designed to provide educational services to children who are not in regular or integrated classroom environments (Almalki, 2013). Comparatively, the integrated preschool setting accommodates both mainstream and children with disability. Alternatively, some government institutions in Saudi Arabia offer different types of health programs, such as Head Start and First Steps, for children who have identifiable disabilities (Almalki, 2013).
Although the teaching styles used in the above institutions vary, there is a consensus among education professionals that early childhood education helps to prepare children for success both in their academic and personal lives (Bruder, 1998; Dare, Nowicki, &Felimban, 2017; Harry, 2008). This principle is also recognized in the Saudi Arabian education system, especially with the growing emphasis in the country on early childhood education for children from birth to six years of age (Dare et al., 2017). Indeed, Saudi culture respects and supports the educational growth of children as they are the future of society.
Over the last 50 years, different social, religious, historical, and economic issues (Dare et al., 2017) have broadly influenced the progress made in promoting the development of early intervention in Saudi Arabia. Notably, the Saudi government has taken a proactive role in making sure children in the pre-K through kindergarten age group has access to the best education services. Saudi Arabia has also developed policies that facilitate the provision of education services for children with special needs.
The provision of early childhood education for preschool children in Saudi Arabia began in the 1970s. The establishment of additional classrooms attached to the general education environment characterized the introductory phase of this period (Dare et al., 2017). The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Education received a mandate to develop policies to guide the provision of education services for preschool children (Murry & Alqahtani, 2015). The Ministry then also directed that education services be provided to children with special needs who fall within this age group (Murry & Alqahtani, 2015). Children who have severe disabilities often receive education services in private educational facilities, while those who have mild disabilities learn in inclusive environments (Dare et al., 2017).
The provision of special education services in Saudi Arabia was mostly spearheaded by communities that advocated for the establishment of special education institutions to ensure that children with special needs have access to education (Dare et al., 2017). Additionally, Saudi schools may have special education classrooms in general education schools where students with disabilities may be educated either completely separately from their typical peers or where partial inclusion may be practiced.
This partial inclusion involves students with disabilities being with their typical peers during either social activities or academic activities on a part-time basis and receiving additional support in resource rooms as needed (Al-Zoubi & Rahman, 2015). Therefore, resource use programs were incorporated to facilitate integration. Counselor and teacher programs also helped to facilitate integration in the general education setting.
When a review of the Saudi Arabian educational curriculum used for children with disabilities was undertaken, it emerged that in the past, such curricula were significantly underdeveloped, in part due to inconsistencies in the assessment of educational outcomes and a lack of clear and universal requirements for developing curricula (Al-Zoubi & Rahman, 2015). However, after the Ministry of Education began to regulate the country’s educational practices, this practice was abolished and a standardized educational curriculum based on education theory and best practices was developed (Al-Zoubi & Rahman, 2015; Dare et al., 2017). Today, Saudi Arabia mandates age-appropriate educational services that reflect educational standards in the field similar to those of developed countries (Alquraini, 2011).
According to Murry and Alqahtani ( 2015), Saudi Arabian government’s guidelines, the educational curriculum offered to preschool children today is premised on three goals. The first is to provide children with educational services that give them opportunities to improve sensory development and maintain robust physical growth. The second is to encourage children to collaborate with one another and enjoy being in the presence of their peers.
The third objective. is to make sure that the students have the best opportunities for optimum mental, moral, and physical growth (Murry & Alqahtani, 2015).In this framework, current educational guidelines encourage educators to prepare children for elementary school settings (Alqassem, Dashash, & Alzahrani, 2016; Al-Zoubi & Rahman, 2015; Dare et al., 2017). This guideline encourages teachers to teach age-appropriate learning content and promote the development of social skills and language among preschool children.
Importance of Family Participation in Early Intervention
Many researchers have investigated the need for family involvement in education (Bruder, 1998; Sabol, Sommer, Sanchez, & Busby, 2018). For example, Bruder (2010) highlighted the need for parental involvement across all stages of learning and age groups (rather than only among children at an early age). In other words, the higher the level of engagement between families and educators, the more children are likely to benefit from a positive learning environment, which will ultimately boost their learning outcomes (Bruder, 2010).
Nonetheless, family engagement in early intervention may take different forms and it is essential for all stakeholders to understand these variations and their influence on children’s educational outcomes. Studies have shown that the beliefs held by educators about family involvement are likely to affect the quality of relationships forged between family members and education professionals (Clough & Nutbrown, 2019; Simpson & Envy, 2015).
The involvement of family members in their children’s education is associated with several positive outcomes, including: low levels of absenteeism, increased concentration of children toward class work, and improved educational performance (Simpson & Envy, 2015). Several research articles have supported this concept by pointing out that children who experience adequate family involvement during their educational experience tend to exhibit improved social skills and behaviors (Bruder, 1998; Friend & Cook, 2014; Harry, 2008; Idol, Nevin, &Paolucci-Whitcomb, 2000; Simpson & Envy, 2015).
Such children also tend to achieve higher grades and test scores compared to their peers who did not receive the same quality of education (Simpson & Envy, 2015). The benefits of parental involvement in education services has also been highlighted by researchers such as Bailey, Simeonsson, Yoder, and Huntington (1990) who stated that parents tend to have a higher level of confidence regarding their children’s education system if they are involved in it. Notably, studies have also shown that strong involvement of family members in children’s education may lead to improved physical and academic performance (Bailey et al., 1990).
These positive attributes are realized through increased academic focus, which is seen in children who enjoy high levels of collaboration between their teachers and family (Young, 2017). This fact led to recognition of the need for parents and teachers to collaborate on laws that govern education. Current legislation guiding how education professionals and family members collaborate in the United States and in Saudi Arabia are discussed in the next section.
Current Legislation on Involving Families in the Educational Process
As mentioned, collaboration among different stakeholders in early childhood education is in part supported by legislative policies, which provide a framework of engagement for family members and education professionals in early intervention. One of the first attempts at legislating on the need for collaboration between families and education professionals was the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 in the United States (Hernandez, 2013).
This legislation required U.S. schools to provide free education services to children with special needs (Hernandez, 2013). Such legislative advancements were premised on the understanding that collaboration among education stakeholders was a best practice for special education. Under this law, special education teachers and related service providers were required to take part in the implementation of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) (Hernandez, 2013).
Including pre-school children with disabilities in legislation only began in the 1990s, when the theme of collaboration was extended to education professionals providing associated services to children from birth to three years (Hernandez, 2013). A more recent evolution in the legislation was IDEA (2004), which encourages education professionals to collaborate across different types of teaching (i.e., between general and special education) (Pugach, Blanton, & Correa, 2011; Paulsen, 2008).
Broadly, the movement towards inclusion started in 1956 through the Brown vs. Board of Education case where it was determined that legal segregation violated the rights of minorities to access education services (Yell, 2019). The case provided a basis for including families in their children’s educational development and formed the basis for the expansion of many legal reforms in early childhood development, which led to the democratization of the education system. For example, the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) emerged from this development because it strived to improve access to educational services for children with disabilities in the same manner as the Brown vs. Board of Education case advocated for the provision of education services for African-American children (Yell, 2019).
Most jurisdictions around the world, including Saudi Arabia, have borrowed some of the above-mentioned developments to create a progressive environment for fostering collaboration among educational stakeholders (Aslanian, 2015). The Regular Education Initiative of 1980 also emerged from the quest for inclusion in early childhood development because it challenged the use of separate education programs for children with disabilities (Yell, 2019).
This strategy attempted to address the limitations of the 1975 version of the IDEA, which failed to holistically provide equal access to education for all (Yell, 2019; Ailwood, 2017). Consequently, it led to the use of one education system, that deployed additional learning resources to support children with disabilities by integrating them in the general education setting (Yell, 2019). The regular education initiative movement also led to the emergence of a renewed interest by parents to be included in their children’s educational programs (Moss, 2015). This movement birthed the term “collaboration” as a key concept in early childhood education because it contributed to the spirit of providing holistic education to learners.
Comparatively, researchers have noted that different education agencies have contributed to the advancement of collaboration among education stakeholders in the United States, such as how the Council of Exceptional Children (CEC) incorporated collaboration into its operational standards due to the national movement toward providing holistic education in the country (Hernandez, 2013). Through the involvement of such organizations, the role of collaboration between family members and education professionals has been highlighted and emphasized in the legal framework of education service provision in the United States. For example, the CEC emphasizes the need for education professionals to collaborate with family members in a culturally appropriate manner (Hernandez, 2013).
The conversation has been extended further to emphasize the need for hiring teachers and other education professionals who have collaborative skills in special education (Pugach et al., 2011). This was in response to findings that certain education professionals might not understand how to collaborate with families in the special education setting (Paulsen, 2008). Clearly, the legislation supporting collaborative practices in early intervention has created a new culture of encouraging professionals with different roles to come together in collaboration to support children with disabilities (Pugach et al., 2011).
In addition, understanding the benefits of collaboration with family members may create a new culture of understanding as education stakeholders learn to operate in a different way to support their students with disabilities (Hernandez, 2013).
The progress made in legislating collaboration between family members and education professionals in the United States has significantly contributed to a strict adherence to educational policies that support collaboration in the special education sector (Pugach et al., 2011). The 2004 changes to the IDEA are the most relevant legislation in understanding the legislative progress that has been made to support collaboration between different stakeholder groups (IDEA, 2004).
Notably, the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA contains language that guides how families should be involved in collaborative processes. For example, Part C of the legislation requires that parents be allowed to be involved in their children’s interagency programs and transition plans (W. H. Blackwell & Blackwell, 2015; Yell, 2019). This provision is articulated in §303.209 of IDEA (2004). The law also requires the lead agencies involved in early intervention to notify parents about eligibility for children who are covered under the Act (Yell, 2019). Here, the goal is to allow parents to dispute findings, especially if their children are found not to meet the eligibility criteria for accommodation and intervention.
Part C of IDEA also requires leading educational agencies to notify parents of their rights when their children are referred for services under Part C of the law (Yell, 2019). This provision outlines provisions regarding confidentiality and requirements for participating agencies to comply with certain records and storage policies (W. H. Blackwell & Blackwell, 2015). The IDEA (2004) also mandates education professionals comply with any request from a parent to review any records about early intervention, within 10 days of such a request (Yell, 2019).
Such requests may include such records as evaluation reports or assessment documents. Lastly, the law also requires education professionals to seek the consent of parents before divulging any personal information relating to their children in any type of public document (Lewis, McCallister, & Browning, 2015). Broadly, IDEA (2004) requires professionals to nurture and support a spirit of collaboration with families.
In Saudi Arabia, collaboration between families and education professionals is also encouraged in law but there are no specific legal provisions outlining how the process should occur. Instead, most of Saudi Arabian law related to collaboration is focused on defining disabilities and integrating children with special needs into the mainstream education system (through partial or full inclusion).
For example, the Regulations of Special Education Programs and Institutes (RSEPI, 2001) include a number of stipulations regarding these issues (Dare et al., 2017). Therefore, it is clear the legislation in Saudi Arabia has not yet evolved to the point of directing how collaboration between parents and education professionals should occur. Nonetheless, the RSEPI does outline different rights and responsibilities of stakeholders in the provision of education services in Saudi Arabia (Alquraini, 2013; Dare et al., 2017).
Broadly, the research highlighted in this document shows that the United States and Saudi Arabia both have established legislation and regulations stipulating how special education services should be provided and the roles of different stakeholders in the process. The laws of both countries contain specific provisions regarding transition services, and definitions of important concepts of special education, such as “disability,” “least restrictive environment,” and “transition services.” These terms will be discussed in the following section.
Least Restrictive Environment in Early Intervention
The concept of the least restrictive environment (LRE) comes from the understanding that children with special needs should receive education services in settings that are either actually in the general education classroom with their typical peers or in a setting as close as possible to such an environment (part-time inclusion), one that best fits with the individual child’s needs (Blackmore, Aylward, & Grace, 2016). The concept of LRE also suggests that an appropriate educational program can be developed to help children make significant gains in their learning outcomes. For many researchers, the concept of the LRE refers to several choices about continuum of placement that are provided based on individual needs (Blackmore et al., 2016; Hamilton-Jones & Vail, 2014).
LRE requires educating individuals with disabilities in settings that areas close to regular classes as appropriate for the child, but it is not a specific setting (Yell, 2019). Although not all children with disabilities may be able to learn in a general education classroom, the concept of LRE has caused educators to adjust programs, such as through the use of differentiated instruction, so that children with mild to moderate disabilities might receive education on a part- or full-time basis, in the general education classroom (Friend, Cook, Hurley-Chamberlain, &Shamberger, 2010).
The least restrictive environment setting would be educating the student with disabilities in the general education classroom with typical peers with no accommodations or modifications needed for the student to be successful. However, the setting is decided based on of setting that is most appropriate for the student’s needs. The other end of the spectrum, meaning the most restrictive setting on the LRE continuum, would be placement in a residential or institutional program that is structured for students with disabilities where they do not receive any instruction in a general education classroom (L. Reiff, personal communication, April 1, 2019).
Residential placement or institutions are considered the most restrictive placement and this option is usually reserved for children with very severe and complicated needs and/or the need for medical services. The IEP team makes the determination regarding the LRE best suited to the needs of the individual child (Yell, 2019). The following diagram describes the concept of the LRE and shows the range of choices.
Family Needs in Early Intervention
To understand family needs in early intervention, it is important to understand the experiences of families in raising and educating their children with disabilities. According to Majoko (2017), most families are under intense pressure and financial strain raising children with special needs. These pressures may lead to depression, anger, self-blame, or even denial (Kyzar, Brady, Summers, Haines, & Turnbull, 2016).
These negative feelings may influence how well these families collaborate with education professionals in the special education setting (Lam, 2014). Regardless, as A. P. Turnbull et al. (2007) noted, it is important to encourage families to engage with their children’s teachers and care providers who may recognize the needs of such families. However, evidence suggests that many education system practices do not reflect an understanding of the needs of these families (Majoko, 2017).
According to Majoko (2017), families experience early intervention at different levels. The opportunities it creates are expected to offset the developmental limitations experienced by their children. Family-centered practices for early intervention have been developed through research and practical studies that have established them as beneficial for supporting collaboration between all stakeholders to support outcomes for children with disabilities (Dunst, Trivette, & Hamby, 2008). The goal of these is to develop capacity-building and enhance experiences for families and, more importantly, their children with disabilities (Dunst et al., 2008).
Nonetheless, the global or universal application of collaboration in early intervention is based on the attachment of family dynamics to a broader based ecological system of societal growth and development (Bronfenbrenner, 2005). The nature of these systems may have either development-enhancing or development-impeding experiences for those involved, depending upon how they are structured; meaning that sometimes, these systems have positive impacts and sometimes negative ones in terms of their effect on development (Bronfenbrenner, 1992).
One of the biggest challenges for early childhood educators with collaboration is the development of support systems that aid collaborative relationships. Although family-centered collaborative practices have universal applicability (Dunst, Trivette, & Hamby, 2006), their application to early intervention have not received widespread support in Saudi Arabia because, from personal knowledge, this researcher found that few centers allow families to be involved in the educational process. Regardless of these challenges, family-centered collaborative practices are largely deemed as necessary to preparing families to manage the challenges of educating children with special needs (Majoko, 2017). Indeed, when families and education professionals collaborate effectively, there will likely be greater awareness of family and cultural values, which may have long-term positive effect on the children (Majoko, 2017).
Collaboration Between Families and Professionals
Collaboration between families and professionals has been highlighted here as an important strategy for the improvement of learning outcomes in early intervention. An attempt to understand the importance of collaboration between family members and professionals in early intervention requires holistic comprehension of the concept. People perceive collaboration in different ways, depending on their perspective based on the influences of their environment.
However, a general overview of the concept suggests that it occurs when educational stakeholders work together to create interdependent professional relationships (Hernandez, 2013). Therefore, in the context of this study, collaboration refers to the act of working with someone else to fulfill a predetermined set of goals. If the concept is applied to families and professionals, it refers to how well people who have legal custody of a child with disabilities collaborate with education professionals, including teachers, speech language professionals and therapists, to name a few.
Role of Collaboration Between Parents and Teachers
The role of collaboration between parents and teacher stems from the vital support that educational stakeholders provide to children in early intervention. Indeed, when parents and teachers collaborate effectively, it is likely to have long-term impact on the educational achievement standards of children with special needs. Collaboration between both parties plays a vital role in empowering children to improve their learning outcomes and adopt better social behaviors (Majoko, 2017).
In this regard, collaboration encourages teachers to open up lines of communication to let parents know what is happening in the classroom and how their staying informed of their children’s educational progress may aid their work in the classroom. In this regard, collaboration allows teachers to share what is happening in the classroom by involving families in their activities and projects. Educators can achieve significant progress in their work by tailoring their communication styles to more constructively work with families.
Majoko (2017) adds that one of the most significant roles of collaboration is to provide education professionals with development opportunities, because collaborative efforts expand the scope of their work and the visibility of their practices. For example, researchers have highlighted the role of training in promoting collaborative practices in early intervention (Dearing, Zachrisson, Mykletun, & Toppelberg, 2018; Stratigos & Fenech, 2018).
Such programs help education professionals improve their skills as they acquire new knowledge about communication styles, which they may then use to engage with family members. From this analysis, a key aspect of collaboration is its ability to incorporate family involvement in the growth and developmental progress of education professionals (Dearing et al., 2018; Stratigos & Fenech, 2018). Through the effective support of these communication plans, teachers acquire new skills and competencies in collaborative practices.
Opportunities of Collaboration
Collaboration among parents and professionals may exist in several forms that are required for successful early intervention while providers offer services. The most common opportunities that collaboration can exist in early intervention settings are discussed below. Collaboration in these opportunities should be working as a team toward a mutual goal (DEC, 2015)
Communication plays an intrinsic role in early intervention, for example in how education professionals impart knowledge to children by speaking to them. The same strategy is used to foster collaborative practices with family members. In other words, education professionals may collaborate with family members through oral, written, and non-verbal communication messaging. Hopkins, Lorains, Issaka, and Podbury (2017), found that communication is one of the most effective collaboration skills required for successful early intervention. Communication strategies are a recommended practice to improve the role of the team and develop the interactions between the members regarding the child’s education progress (DEC, 2014).
One of the challenges associated with collaboration between education professionals and teachers is unequal schedules and time constraints because both sets of education stakeholders are juggling multiple responsibilities (Hakyemez, 2015). Home visits are used in early intervention settings when there are difficulties regarding parents being able to follow-up on matters pertaining to their children with special needs. Collaboration in home visit should be between two equal sides to reach an agreed mutual goal and in this setting between parents and professional.
Research studies have shown that home visits provide for an effective form of collaboration between parents and teachers (Dalkilic & Vadeboncoeur, 2016; Hakyemez, 2015).Such visits are often arranged when teachers want to develop personal relationships with parents or family members. Home visits are deemed some of the most fruitful collaborative engagements between education professionals and family members because they occur in a casual environment where both parents and teachers can interact informally and share information about the children’s development; this information might not be able to be shared otherwise where the setting or communication format is more formal (Dalkilic &Vadeboncoeur, 2016).
Through such visits, educational professionals can also learn more about the family’s values and goals for their students, and even recommend ways in which the students’ educational growth may be fostered at home (Dalkilic &Vadeboncoeur, 2016). Conversely, families also benefit as they may acquire a better understanding of their children’s teachers and therefore better support their work on an interpersonal level (Dalkilic & Vadeboncoeur, 2016). This way, educators and families can work together to share knowledge, decision-making, and information to evaluate, plan and implement intervention.
Collaboration between education professionals and family members also occurs through assessment reviews, if the process is structured to involve family members in assessment practices. In this type of collaborative framework, parents or family members are notified of their children’s progress and encouraged to follow-up on these at home to improve any areas that have been identified as requiring support (Yell, 2019). The benefit of this kind of communication is that it keeps family members informed of the educational progress of their children, so they are made aware of the strengths and weaknesses their children may be exhibiting in the classroom in a timely manner (Yell, 2019).
This information enables parents to understand how to help their children both at home and at school. Their contribution at school may be broad and include a variety of activities, such as providing learning resources needed to support their children’s education, or simply showing up at school to take part in assessment reviews. Educators and practitioners are from multiple disciplines to provide a thorough assessment and work together to plan and implement support and services.
At home, they may follow up on their children’s learning targets as identified by the assessment process. Overall, their involvement in assessment reviews makes them aware of their children’s educational development; thereby, empowering them to support their children’s growth and development.
Individualized family service plan meetings
The IFSP involves the development of an educational service plan for children with special needs and their families (Firstater, Sigad, & Frankel, 2015). This tenet of education service provision is an important part of collaborative learning because it provides a framework through which education professionals and families can interact freely. For example, through the IFSP, parents can learn about the educational services their children will receive. Similarly, it allows family members to understand the expectations regarding educational outcomes/goals and/or the specific learning needs of their children (Firstater et al., 2015).
Researchers such as Donald Bailey and Carol Trivette have demonstrated that family members can be integrated into such meetings to improve current levels of function in early intervention by adopting a family-based approach to decision-making (Shonkoff&Meisels, 2000). Involving parents in IFSP meetings ensures the overall education program includes features that are supportive of incorporating family input. Therefore, collaboration between education professionals and family members in early intervention may be fostered by ensuring that all stakeholders, including parents, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech and language therapists attend early intervention meetings (Firstater et al., 2015).
Data-based decision-making is another type of collaborative framework centered on making joint decisions based on preexisting data regarding collaboration. According to McWilliam (2010), the data-based decision-making method refers to the formulation of decisions regarding the educational achievement of children using assessment data. For a long time, teachers have been using this technique to inform instructional decision-making processes (Friend et al., 2010). Education professionals often rely on different kinds of
data to make these decisions (McWilliam, 2010). However, with the development of legislation and other regulations surrounding the integration of children with special needs in the general education setting, the generation of data from standardized tests has emerged as a legal requirement in some jurisdictions (Friend et al., 2010). The increase in accountability standards for educators has also increased the profile for data-driven decision-making (McWilliam, 2010). Similarly, it has become increasingly important for education professionals to make data-driven decisions (McWilliam, 2010). This need has been registered in the literature on collaboration as family members are also being included in making data-driven decisions about their children’s education (Friend et al., 2010; McWilliam, 2010).
Education professionals may use educational data to find out a child’s areas of strength or weakness and share these findings with family members (Friend et al., 2010; McWilliam, 2010). At the same time, some researchers have shown that educators may use such data to examine their instructional practices and improve them with the help of parents and though their contributions to the decision-making process (Singh & Zhang, 2018; Zhang, 2017).
The data-driven decision-making process may also be used to support formative assessment methods such as homework and teachers’ assessment techniques, with families being included so that they may provide a good environment both at school and at home to help their children complete homework, based on a teacher’s recommendations and observations at school (Singh & Zhang, 2018; Viviani, 2016; Zhang, 2017).
Data-driven decision-making methods are also useful in supporting summative assessment processes, such as classroom tests and performance-based assessments, because they are useful in generating the data that will be used to share information with family members (Singh & Zhang, 2018; Zhang, 2017). These findings highlight the need to understand the benefits and challenges of collaboration.
Guidelines for Collaboration
Collaboration has not been effectively implemented as recommended in evidence-based practice, mainly because it has not been fully and clearly definedas a construct (Dunst, 2000). Banning, Summers, and Frankland (2004) identified the following components as guidelines to ensure collaboration efforts are effective and to help collaborators understand the expectations for the collaboration process.
Communication needs to have positive connotations, should be understandable, and clear. It should be done in a manner that is empathic and respectful to all parties involved. Communications should be honest but also tactful, so none of the parties is offended. It also needs to be frequent and well-coordinated.
Commitment is a sense of assurance that should be developed about the party’s dedication and loyalty to the child and the family. Everyone should be clear about the bigger picture. The child and family should be more than “just a case” to the education professionals. Furthermore, these individuals should be flexible and accessible to the children and their families, as well as be empathetic and encouraging.
All concerned parties should be made to feel equal in all stages, including decision-making, evaluation, and the delivery of services processes. Parents need to be empowered and validated for their legitimate decisions and choices. All sorts of rivalry should be avoided to foster harmony among all the involved parties.
It is reasonable for parents to expect that services providers demonstrate competence. These education professionals should also be fully trained and well-equipped to handle their responsibilities. Educators need to be capable of meeting the individual special needs of the children and their families, and be willing to learn along the way.
Professionals need to emit a sense of assurance, reliability, and dependability to engender trust in the families and children they work with. They need to assure the parents that they will be reliable, discrete, and responsible with and about their children with disabilities. It is very difficult for parents to entrust their children to strangers, so steps need to be taken to make sure they are comfortable with providers. Keeping the child safe should be highest priority.
All parties involved should regard the partnership with esteem and show that esteem through their actions and communications. Professionals need to value the child and exercise and to any type of discriminatory attitudes. They also need to ensure they are courteous and nonjudgmental in their communications and actions. Professionals should avoid unnecessary intrusions, as these may discourage parents from further engaging in the collaborative relationship.
Benefits and Challenges of Collaboration
Positive Outcomes Associated with Collaboration
Collaboration between families and education professionals has been hailed as a useful tool for helping children with disabilities improve their learning outcomes (Friend & Cook, 2014). Some researchers deem collaboration between these two groups of education stakeholders as a best practice in special education (Epstein, 2001).
Some education experts also view collaboration as an important tool for early intervention development because it provides a framework for education professionals to take up more responsibilities in the provision of special education services (Friend & Cook, 2014). Indeed, collaboration between families and education professionals has been tied to the long-term success of children with special needs. Alternatively, a lack of collaboration among education stakeholders has been associated with poor learning outcomes and limitations in the provision of services (Epstein, 2001; Friend & Cook, 2014).
Factors that Support Successful Collaboration
One of the most significant aspects of collaboration, which affects its success in early intervention, is whether stakeholders have a proper understanding of the concept. Here, education stakeholders need to understand that collaboration is not about being liked or liking other people; instead, the concept is about mutual trust and respect among the parties involved (Paulsen, 2008). When the different parties exhibit mutual respect, collaboration flourishes.
Therefore, some researchers have struggled to clarify that collaboration is not a stand-alone process, but rather a tool that education professionals and family members may use to improve the learning outcomes of children with special needs (Epstein, 2001; Friend & Cook, 2014). The effectiveness of using collaborative strategies is dependent upon stakeholder knowledge and use of the strategies.
Training is another factor that supports collaboration in the inclusive learning environment because it prepares teachers to work with other stakeholders within and outside of schools. In addition, training allows special education teachers to be effective collaborators by enabling them to lead or manage collaborative learning activities (Brock et al., 2017). This is instrumental in facilitating the creation of a good learning environment in the special education setting where teachers, children, and parents interact to improve a child’s learning outcomes.
Effective training helps special education teachers to undertake this function because creating such an environment is a time-consuming process that requires skill. Training also prepares special education teachers to effectively assess a child’s learning needs (Brock et al., 2017) and to identify any shortfalls in the current practices that are being implemented. Training programs also allow professionals to develop a framework for involving parents in their children’s education in a manner that does not distract from children’s normal learning processes.
Broadly speaking, training allows special education teachers to undertake their collaborative roles more robustly and effectively for the benefit of the child’s learning (Brock et al., 2017). Therefore, it supports successful collaboration between families and teaching professionals. This leads to the importance of training parents in effective collaboration strategies.
Training parents in collaboration can remove many barriers for children with disabilities such as enhancing desired behaviors (Schultz, Schmidt, & Stichter, 2011). Using a service delivery method to train and coach parents via Internet technology may provide a convenient service to parents, since a lot of the time parents do not have the option of attending classes or workshops. Training parents can help them assist their children with special needs by practicing in other settings the early intervention strategies professionals use to work with their children in school. Standardized guides need to be developed so educators have a solid curriculum to go through with parents regarding early intervention and effective collaboration with their children’s educators (Meadan & Daczewitz, 2014).
Factors that Hinder Successful Collaboration
Although progress has been made to break down the barriers that prevent children with special needs from accessing quality education, several factors still prevent education professionals from effectively collaborating with other stakeholders to improve the quality of education for these students. For example, the lack of a proper and clear definition of collaboration and a poor understanding of the framework that family members and education professionals should use to collaborate is a hindrance to the creation of synergy between the parties (Hernandez, 2013). The lack of a proper understanding of the definition of collaboration stems from concerns about the role of collaboration in affecting educational outcomes (Blue-Banning et al., 2004). Blue-Banning et al. (2004) stated that poor understanding of interpersonal relationships contributes to the failure of collaborative efforts.
Notably, researchers such as Hernandez (2013), have sought to assure stakeholders that collaboration is good for children, by highlighting evidence showing improved learning outcomes and skill acquisition. This view is aimed at addressing concerns among stakeholders regarding the intent of collaboration. Nonetheless, the ambiguity associated with collaboration has also been linked with the inability to effectively implement the concept in early intervention, because some people confuse it with coordination, which is a managerial task (Paulsen, 2008). In the context of this study, collaboration refers to the willingness of different parties (e.g., parents, professionals) to take part in the educational development of children with special needs to achieve desirable outcomes (Friend & Cook, 2014).
Hernandez (2013) expanded upon this discussion by stating that collaboration is easy to achieve, unlike coordination, which is a tedious process that requires alignment of strategic plans in a business setting. Unfortunately, some educational professionals have not successfully embraced collaboration because they do not understand what it is about (Paulsen, 2008). Their inability to comprehend the concept partly supports recommendations by researchers who have highlighted the need for proper training of educational professionals in the implementation of collaborative practices (Hernandez, 2013).
The nature of special education also influences the success of collaboration in early intervention (Paananen, Lipponen, & Kumpulainen, 2015). For instance, the realities of special education funding may influence the quality of collaboration in many special education settings (Paananen et al., 2015). Funding requirements may require education professionals to develop additional documentation that might influence their attitudes toward collaboration.
For example, the increased use of Medicaid funds to finance special education activities in the United States has increased the documentation requirements associated with providing education services to children with special needs (Hernandez, 2013). Such requirements have an effect on the productivity levels of education professionals, thereby influencing their attitudes toward collaboration and impacting how effectively they carry out such practices. Notably, the structure and funding requirements of providing special education services means these professionals have less time to collaborate with family members on the advancement of their children’s educational outcomes. Therefore, such issues negatively impact the success of collaboration.
Another challenge to the implementation of collaborative practices in early intervention is the unwillingness of some education professionals to embrace the concept (Hamilton-Jones & Vail, 2014). This problem has been attributed to both ambivalence and significant difficulties with employing the concept in early intervention (Hamilton-Jones & Vail, 2014). Some researchers have attributed the unwillingness of some education professionals to collaborate with one another to the individualistic culture that characterizes many western countries (Y. L. Goddard et al., 2007; Hernandez, 2013; Whitbread et al., 2007).
Consequently, there have been attempts to relate the concept to a needs-based philosophy where it is used as a tool for creating and sustaining relationships among educational stakeholders (Hernandez, 2013). There have also been questions regarding why all fields of service provision in education have to be forced to collaborate with family members (Hernandez, 2013). For example, the field of language pathology in special education has registered the highest opposition to collaboration because these professionals are not trained to collaborate with others (Hernandez, 2013).
This problem is also linked to other aspects of the education sector, which deem collaboration as contrary to their professional demeanor. Therefore, they experience a strong preference to working independently (Hernandez, 2013). Three types of professionals have been found to manifest this attitude, including teachers, occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists (Hernandez, 2013).
In cases where so-called individualism-related barriers to collaboration are broken down and education professionals express a willingness to engage in collaboration, there is often a lack of proper team structure to support such efforts (Paananen et al., 2015). Here, it is also important to point out that, like other forms of relationships, collaboration may not flourish under certain conditions. Therefore, the adoption of collaborative practices is not an express admission that it will improve the learning outcomes of preschool children. One condition, which may influence the success of collaboration, is the privatization of the practice (Hernandez, 2013). In other words, collaboration among family members and education professionals may be affected by human dynamics.
A South Korean study authored by Bang (2018) showed that negative attitudes among teachers and parents toward collaboration were a significant barrier to collaboration. The study also pointed out that some family members had unreasonable expectations regarding their children’s educations, thereby causing them to be unreceptive to collaboration (Bang, 2018). Lastly, some researchers have noted the negative impact of mandated testing of children with special needs on collaboration with professionals in early childhood special education (Hopkins et al., 2017).
These tests create a high-stakes competitive environment in the special education setting, which nurtures an environment of uncertainty that has a negative impact on collaborative practices (Hopkins et al., 2017). Therefore, education professionals spend a lot of time preparing children to meet mandated testing requirements as opposed to providing stimulating student instruction and engaging in comprehensive collaboration with families and related service providers.
Improving Collaboration in Early Intervention: Recommended Practices
One major obstacle to early intervention practices that has been identified is the lack in coordinated communication between physicians, parents, and educators regarding the needs of children with disabilities. Another important part of collaboration involves schools or institutions providing classroom adaptations and coordinating behavior therapy programs with physicians. The procedure for getting these critical amenities is initiated by the physician and with consent of the parents. Shared decision-making is a key factor to building productive relationships with motivated and interested families.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities have proposed some methods of improving communications between parents, physicians, and schools. These include providing a form letter parents can use to share information with schools. Other initiatives include suggesting a Student Assistant Team Meeting (SAT). As practiced in Lewis, McCallister, and Browning (2015), the letter from the child’s physician that documents all changes in behavior and any diagnoses can very effectively support collaboration efforts and communications with the school to keep educators apprised of developments in the child’s life. The effectiveness of these recommendations was tested through a parent survey conducted via telephone.
The study was conducted over a 24-month period, during which 160 letters were sent to parents with instructions to fill them out before their children’s first appointment with a physician. Follow-up letters were sent after the appointments and that included recommendations for accommodations to be provided in the children’s classrooms. Modifications included: resource teachers, aides or tutors, provision of extra time or study breaks, changes to seating, exercise periods, and oral – versus written — tests. Most of the results from this study were positive, showing that improved communications between physicians, parents, and schools was an integral part of early intervention (Lewis, McCallister, &Browning, 2015).
Division for Early Childhood (DEC, 2014) published a comprehensive guide that provides guidance to practitioners and families on how to most effectively improve the learning outcomes and promote the development of children with disabilities. The fallowing themes can improve the early childhood special education services and good practices lead to good collaboration. The recommendation has been divided into eight topic areas, as follows.
The leadership area is more of a concern at the political and legislative level, as it involves those people in positions of authority. These are the people that possess the power to move toward positive changes in the overall system. They have a responsibility to create a culture and climate where service providers feel empowered. Leaders have to advocate for policies and resources that can go toward supporting better programs.
The remaining topic areas are practitioner-centric, as they are the ones that work with families to gather information and preferences. This involves observation and interviews to gather raw data and then the use of clinical reasoning to develop diagnoses. Using assessments, practitioners can plan activities and providing interventions, and this can be implemented successfully when parents work collaboratively.
Practitioners should always strive to provide inclusive environments and services during routine activities. They should also work with families to make the classrooms more appealing to children with special needs so that they feel comfortable and welcome in the environment. Such modifications create an atmosphere of participation and access to children that supports learning.
Partnerships with families are just as important as the work that is done with the children. These meetings give practitioners the opportunity to obtain insight into the home environment of children. It also helps families develop trust in the practitioners.
Data gathered during assessments can be used to develop specific instruction and coursework for children with disabilities. Practitioners can use explicit feedback and consequences to increase the child’s engagement and skill. The frequency, intensity, and duration of instruction can vary from case to case, and may include activities and routine interventions; however, these should be delivered consistently to maintain progress.
Responsive interaction is a pertinent part of children’s language, cognitive, and emotional development. For children at risk for developmental disabilities, it is critical that early strategies are developed to start mitigating any issues that might arise as early as possible.
Teamwork and Collaboration
The quality of the relationship between parents and practitioners affects the success of such programs. Collaboration has been shown to support positive outcomes and to help practitioners improve the learning outcomes of children with disabilities. Collaboration can also include physicians and practitioners of from other disciplines for more complicated cases, to enable a sound medium for exchange of information on a particular case.
Transitions are the events and activities that help move a child successfully through early childhood programs. These can include transition from hospital to home, from home into early intervention programs, or transition out of an early intervention program. These phase changes need to be handled with sensitivity and care, to ensure the changes are sustainable and the child is successful in the new environment.
The empirical findings reviewed in this chapter, which investigated collaboration between family members and professionals in early childhood special education, are based mostly on findings regarding practices and observations in the United States. There is not much, if any, research on the experiences and perceptions of parents in non-western countries, such as Saudi Arabia, regarding collaboration in early childhood education. Indeed, the literature is almost silent on how parents or families in non-western countries perceive collaboration in the inclusive learning environment or how their cultures influence the quality of partnerships among education stakeholders in early intervention.
In addition, no study has explored the perceptions of family members of collaboration for children with special needs from birth to six years old in Saudi Arabia. Consequently, there is a clear gap in the literature regarding understanding how parents in Saudi Arabia view collaboration with education professionals. The proposed study will address this gap and provide a balanced and holistic view of collaboration in early intervention in Saudi Arabia. The proposed study will also focus on investigating the perceptions of parents toward collaboration in early childhood development in Saudi Arabia.
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