Jan 19 2021

Haring Center Research Scientist, Dr. Katherine Bateman (PhD ‘17), has received a grant from the Rubenstein Foundation to continue her efforts towards increasing access to behavior supports for families of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) using the Project ECHO model.

Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) is a telehealth model of service delivery used around the world to host remote, case-based learning communities. Bateman’s project, “Meeting the Need” creates communities that bring together parents and caregivers of children with I/DD with professionals from different disciplines to brainstorm interventions and supports for children engaging in challenging behaviors at home.

During these weekly video calls, one caregiver presents a situation occurring at home that they would like support in navigating. They describe their goal -- like increasing appropriate behaviors or handling challenges with toilet training -- and the strategies they have tried. Next, parents ask clarifying questions and provide suggestions, drawing from their own experiences. Then, the group receives recommendations from the team of professionals, which includes a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, a special education teacher, a faculty member in special education, and a parent advocate. Following the case presentation, this team also presents a workshop to provide instruction around preventing and responding to challenging behavior.

For Bateman, placing caregivers in the role of experts is key to making these hubs meaningful for all participants.

“It places expertise on parents, caregivers, and family members who join the call,” Bateman said. “It is empowering and it helps foster a sense of community as all participants may have similar experiences navigating their own lives with their child diagnosed with a disability. These families are able to comfort each other, provide support, and offer suggestions in a forum that values and honors their expertise as parents and caregivers.”

Forging connections between families facing similar challenges and building a sense of community is one of the most important outcomes for Dr. Bateman.

“It is inspiring to feel the camaraderie and support as parents cheerlead for each other,” Bateman said. “Seeing each participant really buy in to participation in the ECHO sessions and reach out a helping hand to their peers -- who were once strangers -- is what this is about.” 

In recruiting participants for the project, Bateman’s team aims to provide support to families that face challenges in accessing services. Because the sessions are remote, Bateman’s hubs have also included families from all over Washington state, many from rural regions where supports are less accessible.

“We know from an abundance of research that all children benefit from good teaching,” Bateman said. “We really tried to focus on finding families . . . that didn’t have easy access to these services.”

By surveying families before and after they participate in a hub, Bateman’s team has identified that these sessions lead to noticeable positive changes for families. Results show that families feel supported by an active community and more confident in managing challenging behaviors at home.

Dr. Bateman’s work has been amplified by support from the Rubenstein Foundation, an organization based in Boston. While the foundation does not normally fund projects in Washington, trustee Jey Auritt began exploring resources for autism support in the Puget Sound area when her grandson received an autism diagnosis and was impressed by the Haring Center’s mission and research.

Bateman's research proposal in particular resonated with Auritt, who had recently witnessed the impact of her grandson’s diagnosis on his family. "I understood how important it is for families in non-urban areas to have a place to turn, especially where there are few if any resources available,” Auritt said. “In those early days, if you don't have someone to bounce ideas off -- other parents, professionals -- good chance you feel scared, alone and isolated."

With their grant from the Rubenstein Foundation, Bateman’s team plans to experiment with shortening the length of their hubs from 16 weeks to eight weeks in hopes of providing support to more families without losing effectiveness.

“We want to determine what is the most effective amount of intervention in order to ensure we are maximizing the amount of people we can reach,” Bateman said. “At the end of the day, this funding gives us the opportunity to provide meaningful services and support aimed at increasing quality of life for families in a way that is empowering and creates a strong community of support.”

Story by Gabriela Tedeschi, marketing and communications student aide.

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