Optimizing Parent Coaches’ Ability to Facilitate Mastery
of Parents of Children with Autism
Psychometrist, Central West Autism Intervention Services, ErinokKids, Ontario, CanadaKiran Kumar, PhD
Professor, Department of Studies in Psychology, University of Mysore, Mysore, India.
Raj A. & Kumar K.. (2009). Optimizing Parent Coaches’ Ability to Facilitate Mastery Experiences of
Parents of Children with Autism. International
Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation. Vol
study was conducted as part of Archana Raj’s doctoral thesis at
University of Mysore, India. The authors wish to thank the parents,
clients, staff, and management of Central West Autism Intervention
services, ErinoakKids, Ontario, for the support and cooperation they
extended to this study.
experiences exert a significant influence on self-efficacy. A major
component of mastery experience is positive appraisal of direct
experiences with task-related behaviors. It is possible that parents of
children with autism experience fewer opportunities for positive
appraisal of parent-child interactions. This study proposes a
sensitized model of parent coaching with in-built practices to support
coaches to facilitate mastery experiences of this group of parents, in
parent-child interactions. The relative capacities of this model and an
existing model of parent coaching, as perceived by the coaches, in
supporting them to facilitate mastery experiences of parents of
children with autism, is the focus of this study. As perceived by the
coaches, the sensitized model of coaching enhanced their ability to
facilitate parental mastery experiences, compared to the existing model.
Keywords: self-efficacy, mastery experiences, sensitized parent-coaching model
Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder characterized by severe
qualitative impairments in reciprocal social interaction and communication, and
restricted, repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities (American
Psychiatric Association, 2000). Lovaas et al., in 1973 first emphasized the
importance of training parents as intervention providers for their children
with autism. They noted that following intensive treatment, children whose
parents received training to carry on the intervention continued to make gains
compared to children who were returned to institutional settings. Since 1973, significant
strides have been made in providing training/coaching to parents of children
with autism, with a number of studies reporting parents gaining skills in
facilitating functional social-communication and in managing challenging
behaviors through parent coaching (e.g., Aldred, Green, & Adams, 2004;
Wetherby & Woods, 2006; Rogers et al., 2006; Carr & Durand, 1985;
Feldman & Werner, 2002).
In recent years, in developmental
research, there has been increased appreciation of cognitive factors associated
with parenting, with parental self-efficacy emerging as one of its most
powerful predictors (Coleman and Karraker, 1997). Bandura (1977; 1986; and
1989) identifies self-efficacy in terms of one’s belief in one’s ability to
successfully perform a particular behavior. In psychology and education,
self-efficacy has proven to be a more consistent predictor of behavioral
outcomes than have any other motivational constructs (Graham & Weiner,
1996). However, as identified by Coleman and Karraker (1997) and by Jones and
Prinz (2005), information is sparse on interventions that target this construct
centrally, for parents.
Families of children with autism report a
greater number of stressors when compared with families of children with other
disabilities (McGrath, 2006); further, it has been identified that the child’s
state is the primary factor behind the high levels of stress experienced by
this group of parents (Fleischmann, 2005). Sense of competence could be an area
of particular vulnerability when child characteristics are chronic and result
in special challenges to parenting (Kazak & Marvin, 1984). This information
underlines the need for programs for children with autism to address the gap
identified by Coleman and Karraker (1997) and Jones and Prinz (2005). The gamut
of skill-deficits around social-communication and challenging behaviors that
are associated with the diagnosis of autism often leave parents perplexed and
feeling inadequate when interacting with their children. Most parents do not
have a frame of reference of previous experiences and role models in
interacting with children who are predominantly non-responsive in social
contexts; therefore, there is often a
tendency to become extremely reliant on the therapists as experts, and feeling
that only trained therapists have the competence to address the child’s needs. The
identifying feature of autism being a lack of social responsiveness, many
parents fail to experience naturally occurring social-reinforcement
contingencies experienced by parents of typically developing children and other
developmental disabilities. Direct experience with parenting task behavior, in
other words, would often have resulted in failure for them, in the form of a
lack of, or inadequate social responsiveness from their children. Given the
unique nature of parent-child interactions in autism, and the impact such
interactions could have on parental cognitions, there is a need to develop
parent-coaching models with the explicit purpose of influencing self-efficacy of
parents of children with autism (Raj and Salagame, in press), with coaching practices
geared to influence parental sense of competence. One way to achieve this end
is for coaches to facilitate mastery experiences of the parents, through the
process of coaching.
According to Bandura (1994), the most
influential source on self-efficacy is through mastery experiences derived from
an authentic experiential base. One’s personal history of accomplishment
through direct task experience has been identified by Bandura (1989) as
exerting the most powerful influence on mastery experiences. Every time a
person has the opportunity to master a task, he/she will start to believe in
his/her capability to perform the task. Therefore, it becomes paramount that a
coaching model with the explicit purpose of affecting parental self-efficacy
equips the coaches with techniques to provide experiences of mastery to the
The question naturally arises as to the
capacity of traditional parent-coaching models in existence for parents of
children with autism to help coaches facilitate mastery experiences of the parents.
Based on the primary means through which self-efficacy is believed to develop,
i.e., through direct experience with task behavior, traditional parent coaching
models with the three core practices of modeling, rehearsal, and feedback have
the capacity to facilitate mastery experiences.
However, most of these models were not designed with the purpose of
influencing self-efficacy of parents of children with autism. Specific sensitivities have to be
infused into the three core coaching practices of modeling, rehearsal,
and feedback (Raj and Salagame, in press), to provide coaches with
practices to efficiently facilitate mastery experiences of this group of
parents. The goal of this study was to compare the relative efficacies of a
traditional parent-coaching model and an enhanced model, to facilitate mastery
experiences of parents, as perceived by the coaches.
address this goal, an existing ‘parent coaching model’ was compared with an enhanced
version of it, called hereafter as “sensitized coaching” developed by the authors,
with specific sensitivities infused into the core coaching practices of
modeling, rehearsal, and feedback. The current model of parent coaching at the
participating agency in this study served as an example of an existing
parent-coaching model. It was hypothesized that coaches would perceive the
sensitized model of coaching to be more effective in facilitating mastery
experiences of parents of children with autism, compared to the existing model.
Coaching parents to conduct mand training for their child with autism was the
vehicle used to answer the study question.
or request is a unique type of language that directly benefits the child by
letting his/her care taker know what he/she wants or does not want at a
particular moment. Mand is the first type of language to teach a child with
language deficit, as in the case of most children with autism (Sundberg and
Mastery experience. The experience of completing an activity successfully, leading to
increase in self-efficacy related to the activity (Jackson, 2002) Dependent and independent variables
The dependent variable in this study was
the coaches’ perception of the relative capacity of the sensitized and existing
models of parent coaching to facilitate mastery experiences of parents. The
dependent variables were the two models of parent coaching.
Design of the study
A group of coaches were first trained on
the existing model of parent coaching at the participating agency in this study
and then on the sensitized model. They implemented the two models of coaching
on two separate groups of parents, consecutively. Coaching was provided to parents
in group 1, with the existing model of parent coaching at the participating
agency. Following this phase, coaching was provided to parents in group 2 with
the sensitized coaching model.
All parent coaches were Instructor
Therapists (ITs) working for the participating agency. The twelve coaches who
participated in this study were matched on specific variables as summarized in Table
1. Fifteen mothers per group, matched on
their pre-coaching self-efficacy scores received coaching. Table 2 summarizes
characteristics of the parents. Their children were between the ages of four
and eight years, had a diagnosis of autism, and were clients of the
participating agency. These children exhibited low rates of mands (less than 10
times per hour in parent-child interactive situations). They did not exhibit
aggression towards others and/or self-injurious behaviors (Raj and Salagame, in
Characteristics of the 12 Coaches Who Participated
in the Study
of a college diploma in early childhood education or applied behavioral
spent in providing therapy
Average duration of employment with the agency
A Coach Feedback Form was developed by the
authors to measure coaches’ perception of the capacity of the two models of
parent coaching to equip them to influence mastery experiences of parents. In
developing this form, the authors had discussions with a number of coaches at the
participating agency to identify what they hoped to provide parents with,
through coaching. Common themes that emerged included (a) enhance parent confidence;
(b) create opportunities for productive parent-child interactions; (c) reduce
parents’ reliance on trained therapists; (d) help parents generalize skills
across different environments; (e) have standards of performance for parents to
work towards; and (e) keep parents motivated throughout the duration of the
coaching period. In essence, what the coaches hoped for was to facilitate
mastery experiences of the parents. The Feedback Form was developed based on
the input from the coaches. The form has 22 statements. Coaches compared the
existing and the sensitized models on each of the 22 statements. They used a
6-point scale with response options ranging from strongly agree to strongly
disagree. Coaches’ ratings were added up, resulting in separate scores for the
sensitized and existing model. Based on the scores of 15 coaches, the
Cronbach’s alpha coefficient for this Form as it measures existing parent-coaching
model is .96. Cronbach’s alpha coefficient for this Form with-reference-to the
sensitized parent-coaching model is .79.
Parents in group 1 and group 2 were
matched on two measures of self-efficacy (a) The self-efficacy subscale of The
Parenting Sense of Competence Scale (Mash and Johnston, 1983) and (b) The Task-Specific
Self-Efficacy scale (Raj and Salagame, in press). The Parenting Sense of Competence Scale (PSOC)
is in the public domain. Cronbach’s alpha coefficient for the self-efficacy
sub-scale is .76 (Johnston and Mash, 1989). The same for the Task-Specific
Self-Efficacy Scale is .89 (Raj and Salagame, in press). The PSOC scale was
used as a measure of domain-general self-efficacy of the participating parents and
the Task-Specific Self-Efficacy scale was used as a measure of their sense of
competence on facilitating mands for their children.
Client Services Management Committee at
the participating agency gave permission to conduct this study. Coaches who
were employees of the agency were given information on the study, in
face-to-face meetings with the first author. All coaches were supervised by
their Senior Therapists (STs) and had received training on the existing parent
coach model as part of their job. The same coaches received training on the
sensitized model from the author, along with their STs, before implementing
coaching for parents in group 2. The coaches were provided with the Feedback
Form by the author once they concluded implementation of coaching with both the
models. The coaches returned the completed Feedback Forms to the author in
sealed envelopes, personally.
Parents who participated in the study were
clients of the agency. Parent coaching is routinely offered to all parents of
children in the autism program, at the participating agency, as part of the
service delivery model. On behalf of the first author, Senior Therapists
approached parents who had been identified to receive coaching on facilitating
mands for their children, with information on the study. All parent participants
gave informed consent. Parents were randomly assigned to group 1 and group 2. They
reported on the two self-efficacy measures, before receiving the coaching
interventions. These questionnaires were delivered to the parents by the STs
working with the families. Completed questionnaires were collected in sealed
envelopes by the STs and delivered to the first author.
The following provisions were in place to
counter extraneous factors which could have potentially acted as confounds on
the dependent variables (a) coaches received training on the sensitized model
of coaching only after they finished implementing coaching with group; (b) both
models of coaching were identified as parent coaching to limit any implications
that one model might be inherently superior to the other; (c) coaches were not
familiarized with the concepts of self-efficacy and mastery and; (d) all
coaches had equal opportunities to establish rapport with the children and the
parents before starting parent coaching.
It is identified in literature that change
in parental sense of competence depends on a change in ratio of successes to
failures in parenting responding and on a change in the subsequent reappraisal
of competencies (Bandura, 1981). Based on these directions and with the aim of
providing coaches with specific tools to influence mastery experiences of
parents, the following provisions were incorporated into the practices of
modeling, rehearsal, and feedback in the existing model, resulting in a
sensitized model of parent coaching. The provisions are as follows (a) operationally
defining sub-skills of the task to pinpoint the behaviours to be modeled to the
parent, and to make the task achievable; (b) creating opportunities for the
parent to generalize sub-skills through rehearsal; (c) making quantitative data
available to the parent, to engage in self-appraisal of competence, in addition
to coach’s feedback; and (d) systematically fading out coach’s models to
increase opportunities for the parent to perform the task independently (Raj
and Salagame, in press).
Characteristics of the 30 Parents Who Participated in the Study
than five facilitations of child’s mands
observed during half-an-hour of mother-child interactions
Table 3 compares
the existing model and the sensitized model of coaching and identifies how each
feature of the sensitized model helps the coach to facilitate mastery
experiences of the parents. Figure 1 and Figure 2 depict the salient features
of the existing model and the sensitized model (Raj and Salagame, in press). Every
parent who participated in this study received 1:1 coaching, in the presence of
the child, for two hours on a specific day of the week. Parents in group 1
received three months of coaching according to the coaching practice at the
agency. Duration of coaching for parents in group 2 was dependent on achieving
performance criteria as outlined in Table 2.
the Two Models of Coaching and the Impact of the Sensitized Model on Coach’s
Capacity to Facilitate Mastery
Experiences of the Parent
Impact on facilitating Mastery Experiences
sub-skills of a
Sub-skills are further operationally defined, in a measurable,
Target skill becomes
objective, achievable, and measurable; supports goal setting and achievement.
During rehearsal, the coach focuses on contriving a number of
generalization opportunities on the sub-skills.
experiences success in varied contexts of parent-child interactions.
feedback to the
In addition to feedback, coach maintains
quantitative data on behalf on the parent and shares the progress
towards achieving performance criteria.
Parent has a
tangible and objective information system, for self-appraisal of performance.
three months of
Coaching terminates only once parent achieves criterion on
independent performance in (a) coaching sessions and (b) novel situations.
many opportunities for self-reflection, self-correction, and generalization
Arbitrary ratio of
models from the
Coach follows a prescribed ratioa of
models and opportunities
for independent attempts by parent,
in-order-to fade out support, systematically.
parent’s reliance on the coach.
a The coach
encourages the parent to try a sub-skill independently after the skill had been
modeled to the parent, a maximum of two times. At the independent attempt, if
the parent shows signs of not being able to follow through, the coach models
the skill again two times and encourages the parent to try the skill
Figure 1Figure 2
Fidelity of implementation of coaching
STs observed and gave feedback to the
coaches on both models of coaching, in-vivo or through videos on the coaching,
on an average of two times per month. In addition, the supervising STs rated a
random sample of coaches on procedural integrity for implementing the sensitized
model of coaching on two separate occasions, during the course of the
intervention. A rating scale of eight items, developed by the authors was used
for this purpose. The results indicated that each of the coaches had 80% or
above adherence to the prescribed procedures, across each of the two occasions
(Raj & Salagame, in press).
The study involved
repeated measurements on a single sample. Analysis of
significance of difference between the coaches’ ratings of the two models of
coaching was conducted using the Wilcoxon Matched-Pairs Signed Ranks Test. In
addition, a content analysis of the coaches’ responses on the Feedback Form was
also undertaken. The aim was to isolate features of the two models with
reference to their relative capacities to influence mastery experiences.
Matched-Pairs Signed Ranks Test was used to test significance of difference of
coaches’ ratings of the two models of parent coaching. Results are provided in
Table 4. According to the statistical analysis, there
was a significant difference between the ratings (z=2.903, N-Ties=12,
p=.002). Information on the raw scores provided in Figure 3 indicates
that 11 of the 12 coaches rated the sensitized model higher than the existing
model of parent coaching. Statistical analysis support acceptance of the
directional hypothesis that coaches would perceive the sensitized model of
parent coaching to be more effective in providing them with enhanced capacity
to impact mastery experiences of parents, compared to the existing model.
Figure 3 Table 4
Results of Paired Samples Test
According to the results, coaches perceived
that the sensitized coaching model better equipped them to influence parental
mastery experiences. Content analysis revealed further facets of the sensitized
model that differentiated it from the existing model, as perceived by the
In the sensitized model, sub-skills are operationally defined in an
objective, achievable, and measurable way. Thus, a composite task that could
look overwhelming was broken down into objective and achievable component
goals, enhancing the coaches’ ability to facilitate experiences of success for
the parents. According to Evers et al. (2006), a key coaching competency is for
the coach to help the coachee set goals that are valued, specific, realistic,
and attainable. These aspects are in-built in the sensitized coaching model,
enhancing both the coach’s and the coachee’s capacity to set and achieve goals,
both essential for mastery experiences.
According to the coaches, supplementing their feedback with data,
with emphasis on helping the parent monitor progress, is a salient feature of
the sensitized coaching model. In-order-to make consistent progress, the coach
should be able to help the coachee monitor and evaluate his/her performance
(Graham et al., 1994). The data, when used as a performance monitoring system,
allow coaches to meet this criterion. Additionally, the data help coaches
motivate parents and act as a motivational system for themselves.
The coach’s ultimate goal is for the coachee to demonstrate
sustained performance by achieving the competence and confidence to engage in
self-reflection, self-correction, and generalization of skills and strategies
to new situations, beyond the realm of the coaching environment (Flaherty,
1999; Kinlaw, 1999). Through the generalization opportunities on the sub-skills
in the sensitized model, the coach facilitates the parent contacting mastery
experiences in different contexts of parent-child interactions, across
locations and time. In addition, systematic fading of coach’s support, achieved
by following a prescribed ratio of models vs. independent attempts by parent, helps
buffer over-dependence on the coach and increases independent implementation of
the sub-skills by the parent.
Coaches went back to conducting coaching
with the existing model of coaching once the study was completed. As a
follow-up, this author sought their input on how their experiences with the
sensitized model continue to influence their current practice as coaches.
According to their input, they are more diligent in task-analyzing the skills
being coached to arrive at sub-skills, and operationally defining the
sub-skills in measurable and achievable terms. They are also more aware of the
need to make use of an objective system of tracking and sharing parental
strengths and challenges throughout the course of the coaching. Systematic
fading of prompts with the goal of minimizing parents’ dependence on them
continues to influence the current practice of the coaches. Conclusion
The outcomes of this study reinforce the
benefits of sensitizing the core practices of coaching to enhance the capacity
of the coaches to influence mastery experiences of parents of children with
autism. Since mastery experiences have the most powerful influence on
self-efficacy and since self-efficacy can influence the quality of care that
parents provide to their children as well as the degree of enjoyment they
derive from the parenting experience (Coleman and Karraker, 1997), the practice
of sensitizing traditional coaching models could have far-reaching benefits for
families of children with autism. However,
it is necessary to apply the model to a large sample size of coaches across
different programs for children with autism to better understand its strengths
and weaknesses. In addition, this model needs to be compared with other models
of parent coaching in existence for parents of children with autism.
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