Dads’ Interaction Can Help Kids With ASD Michelle Flippin seeks ways to involve fathers in social-communication intervention with their children who have ASD. Foundational Questions
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Foundational Questions  |   March 01, 2017
Dads’ Interaction Can Help Kids With ASD
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Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / Language Disorders / Social Communication & Pragmatics Disorders / Foundational Questions
Foundational Questions   |   March 01, 2017
Dads’ Interaction Can Help Kids With ASD
The ASHA Leader, March 2017, Vol. 22, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.FQ.22032017.np
The ASHA Leader, March 2017, Vol. 22, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.FQ.22032017.np
Michelle Flippin, PhD, CCC-SLP, assistant professor, Department of Communicative Disorders, University of Rhode Island
ASHFoundation support: 2015 New Investigators Research Grant. mflippin@uri.edu
What is the focus of your research? How did your award from the ASHFoundation lead to your current work?
My research focuses on how to more effectively involve fathers in social-communication intervention for young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Fathers have unique communication and play styles, and they are potentially important contributors to a child’s communication development. Unfortunately, fathers are often overlooked in intervention and research. Understanding how to more effectively involve fathers in communication intervention may improve child language skills for children with ASD and also benefit parents and families. The New Investigator award from the ASHFoundation is supporting a pilot study of father-implemented social-communication intervention.
What do you hope to demonstrate through your research—or what has it already demonstrated?
I hope to identify intervention strategies that are a good fit for fathers’ interaction styles and support improved communication outcomes for children with ASD. This is a pilot study, but results so far show that fathers are able to learn responsive-language and play strategies, and that when fathers use these strategies, children seem to have gains in expressive language.
Feedback from the effort to recruit families for this research shows that fathers of children with ASD are interested in participating in their child’s intervention. However, for these families, fathers are often the primary income-earner, so we may need to use more flexible intervention models to successfully involve fathers. The next phase of this study will explore using telepractice to coach fathers in this intervention.
Why did you choose this particular research focus?
My research is driven by work with children with ASD and their families. I was a clinical speech-language pathologist for six years—in schools, early intervention and preschool programs—before pursuing a PhD. These early clinical experiences enrich my research questions and, I hope, the usefulness of my research findings.
Although many fathers came to our school meetings, mothers were most often the parent who communicated with me about goals and progress, and mothers participated in home visits more than fathers. However, when I did get to work with fathers, I noticed the sessions were different from sessions with mothers—they were more physical, but also often very engaging. Sometimes, without knowing it, fathers were targeting the same skills I was working on in my sessions. Lifting the child in their air, for example, and pairing the action with a language model, are effective ways of targeting joint attention and communication skills.
How has ASHFoundation funding affected your professional life?
I started a new position at the University of Rhode Island shortly before receiving this award. Funding from ASHFoundation opened doors to me as a junior researcher, and allowed me to hit the ground running in several important ways. First, it helped me to more quickly receive IRB approval, work with the team at our research office, and network across the college and university to raise awareness of my work and create collaborative research opportunities.
Second, this support has already led to other funding opportunities. For example, I recently won a $108,000 grant from the Champlin Foundations to establish a LENA laboratory at the University of Rhode Island. With the LENA lab, I can offer each of our undergraduate and graduate students hands-on training in using digital language sampling technology. The families in our research studies will be able to use LENA feedback on language models and environment.
And third, work on the ASHFoundation grant and support from the Pathways program (ASHA’s mentoring program for early-career clinical scientists) are the basis for developing an NIH R15 proposal translating this pilot study into a web-based, father-implemented, social-communication intervention for children with ASD.
However, one of the most rewarding effects is that I could immediately involve many of my undergraduate and master’s students in my research. Working on a research project allows students to acquire skills I can’t cover in my classes: learning behavioral coding software, conducting digital language sampling and analysis, and interpreting nonverbal cognition and parental stress measures.
I know this work has enhanced my students’ learning experiences and how much they value research and evidenced-based practice, and I hope they will become more effective and thoughtful clinicians in the next few years.
I can’t express how grateful I am to the ASHFoundation for this support at an important point in my career. For me, the New Investigator Award was just the right funding at just the right time. I hope to grow this investment in research into a program that will benefit the children with ASD and families I work with as well as the undergraduate and graduate students I teach.
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March 2017
Volume 22, Issue 3