What is Project ImPACT?

Project ImPACT (Improving Parents As Communication Teachers) is a parent-mediated intervention for young children with autism and related social communication delays. Children with social communication delays are slow to develop early nonverbal communication skills, such as joint attention and engagement, gesture use, imitation and play. These delays not only have a negative effect on the development of social relationships and verbal language, but also contribute to barriers like tantrums, aggression and delayed and cognitive skills. 

Project ImPACT is a naturalistic developmental-behavioral intervention. This is a newer class of interventions for young children with ASD and related concerns that has been informed by the fields of developmental and communication sciences and applied behavior analysis. 

Project ImPACT uses several strategies and techniques to shape interactions. Focus on your child is the first strategy designed to promote child engagement by increasing the parent’s sensitivity to her child’s interests and behavior. Adjusting your communication, the second strategy is used to encourage the child’s engagement and nonverbal and verbal language by teaching the parent to emphasize the affect and match the communication level of their child.

The third strategy, Create opportunities is used to encourage back-and-forth or reciprocal interactions, to create opportunities for the child to communicate for various functions and is also used to gain the child’s attention when needed. Teach new skills, the fourth strategy helps the parents learn how to use prompting, fading, shaping and reinforcement in natural contexts to target specific behaviors. In the fifth and final strategy, Shape the interaction, the parent is taught how to use all these strategies together, including when to emphasize the different strategies, how to move between them within an interaction, and how to use the strategies in community settings. 

For whom it can be used?

Project ImPACT was developed with the specific goal of supporting the use of practice in parent mediated intervention by community providers. Parent-mediated intervention involves providing systematic teaching and coaching in intervention strategies to help parents accomplish specific goals for their child, including providing the parent-child relationship, increasing specific developmental skills, and managing their child’s behavior. This program is feasible and acceptable for families of toddlers at risk for ASD and families from low-socioeconomic-status backgrounds receiving intervention in community settings. 

Most providers who work with young children with ASD and other social communication delays recognize the importance of involving parents in their child’s intervention. 

Research about its previous use with children with ASD

Several studies have evaluated Project ImPACT as a parent-mediated intervention package. These studies demonstrate that both individual and group coaching models are effective for teaching parents to use the intervention strategies with fidelity, and that they lead to increased parent self-efficacy and decreased parenting stress. In addition, parent and teacher reports, as well as observations of parent-child interactions, indicate that children make gains in language use after participation in the program. These gains are associated with increased parent responsiveness and direct teaching of social communication skills. Studies have also shown that community-based intervention providers can learn to implement the program with fidelity as a result of our provider training model. 

A growing body of literature demonstrates that parent-mediated intervention effectively improves outcomes for the child and the parent. 

Conclusion remarks

Research indicates the importance of both parent responsiveness and environmental contingencies in the development of social communication in young children. Responsiveness is a complex behavior that involves a variety of interactive components, including sensitivity, reciprocity, affect, and matching the child’s developmental level, interests and behavior style to support behaviors currently within the child’s repertoire. Research has shown a consistent relationship between parents’ level of responsiveness and their child’s social communication development.

Research also indicates that the development of social communication skills can be facilitated through the use of applied behavior analysis. ABA can vary considerably in its level of structure and adult-directedness. Project ImPACT uses naturalistic ABA and involves child-initiated teaching and natural reinforcement. Project ImPACT uses a unique blend of developmental and behavioral intervention techniques. They are designed to increase the parent’s responsiveness to the child’s behavior and teach the child to use new communication, imitation, and play skills within ongoing interactions in daily routines. 


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