Research Projects Research Findings Autism Spectrum Disorders Down Syndrome Early Childhood Mental Health Other Developmental Risks and Disabilities Child Development
Research Findings

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Studies Examining the Effectiveness of Responsive Teaching

1. Mahoney, G & Perales, F. (2005). A comparison of the impact of relationship-focused intervention on young children with Pervasive Developmental Disorders and other disabilities. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 26(2), 77-85.

Study Abstract

This study compares the effects of Responsive Teaching on toddlers and preschool-age children who were classified as having either Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) (N = 20) or developmental disabilities (DDs) (N = 30). The intervention was conducted over a 1-year period through weekly individual parent-child sessions. It focused on helping parents use responsive teaching strategies to encourage their children to acquire and use pivotal developmental behaviors that addressed their individualized developmental needs. Before and after comparisons indicated significant increases in parents’ responsiveness and children’s pivotal behavior. Both groups of children made significant improvements in their cognitive, communication, and socioemotional functioning. However, children with ASD made statistically greater improvements on the developmental measures than children with DDs. On several developmental measures, children’s improvements were related to increases in both their parents’ responsiveness and their own pivotal behavior.

Implications of Study

  • These findings provide evidence that the methods and procedures of Responsive Teaching are highly effective at enhancing the developmental and socio-emotional functioning of toddlers and preschool aged children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other Developmental Disabilities
  • Results point to parent participation as a key element of intervention. Parents interacting responsively with young children during their daily routines may be more critical to intervention effectiveness than the time parents and/or children spend with professionals.
  • Findings imply that pivotal developmental behaviors may be important considerations for addressing many of the social emotional and developmental needs of young children with ASD and other disorders.
  • Findings showed that a single intervention simultaneously impacted several dimensions of children’s functioning (cognition, communication and socio-emotional functioning). These findings indicate that RT is a holistic intervention that is a cost effective method of providing services to all children with developmental and social emotional concerns.

2. Mahoney, G. & Perales, F. (2003). Using relationship-focused intervention to enhance the social-emotional functioning of young children with autism spectrum disorders. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 23 (2), 77-89.

Study Abstract

This study investigates the effectiveness of relationship-focused intervention on the social and emotional well-being of children with autism spectrum disorders. Relationship-focused intervention is a general approach to developmental intervention that encourages and supports parents to enhance their use of responsive interactive strategies during routine interactions with their children. The sample for this study consisted of 20 young children diagnosed with autism or pervasive developmental disorder and their parents. Parents and children received weekly intervention sessions for 8 to 14 months. These sessions focused on encouraging parents to use the Responsive Teaching curriculum to promote children’s socioemotional development. Comparisons of pre- and post assessments indicated that the intervention was successful at encouraging mothers to engage in more responsive interactions with their children. Increases in mothers’ responsiveness were associated with significant improvements in children’s social interaction, as well as in standardized measures of their social–emotional functioning. These results indicate that relationship-focused intervention holds much promise for enhancing the social–emotional functioning of children with autism spectrum disorders.

3. Kim J.M. & Mahoney, G. (2005). The effects of relationship focused intervention on Korean parents and their young children with disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 26 (2), 101-201.

Study Abstract

This study was conducted to examine the impact of Relationship Focused intervention (RF) on a sample of Korean mothers and their preschool-aged children with disabilities. Subjects were 18 mothers of children with developmental problems (ages 3 to 8 years). Ten of these mothers were assigned to an RF treatment group and 8 to a No RF control group. The RF was adopted from the Responsive Teaching Curriculum. This intervention focused on teaching mothers to use responsive teaching strategies through a process of modeling, coaching, role-playing and video feedback. It was implemented with parents during weekly group and individual intervention sessions that were conducted over three months period. Comparison of pre-and post-intervention assessments of parent child interaction indicated that RF was effective at encouraging parents to become more responsive, affective and achievement oriented with their children. These changes in mothers’ interactional style were associated with an 18% increase in children’s interactive behaviors. Regression analyses indicated that increases in children’s behavior were associated positively with maternal responsiveness and negatively with maternal achievement orientation. Results from this study are discussed in terms of (a) implementing RFI with Korean mothers and (b) the mechanisms by which RFI promotes children’s development.

Implications of Study

  • Results from this study indicate that Responsive Teaching Strategies have has the same type of impact on the interactive behavior of parents from a non-western country. As reported for parents from the United States.
  • Mothers’ use of Responsive Teaching strategies had the same type of impact on the pivotal behavior of young Korean children as has been reported for toddlers and preschool aged children from the United States.
Studies Examining the Relationship of Early Intervention Effectiveness to Parental Responsiveness

1. Mahoney, G., Boyce, G., Fewell, R., Spiker, D., & Wheeden, C.A. (1998). The relationship of parent-child interaction to the effectiveness of early intervention services for at-risk children and children with disabilities. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 18(1), 5-17.

Study Abstract

This study examined the developmental outcomes of 637 children who participated in four Early Intervention research projects in relationship to the manner these programs influenced parent-child relationships. In two of these projects [the Longitudinal Studies (Casto & White, 1993) and the Infant Health and Development Program (IHDP, 1990)], children received services based on Child-Directed intervention models in which the professionals focused on working directly with children. A primary feature of these interventions was the intensity or amount of services children received. In the other two projects [Family-Centered Outcomes (Mahoney & Bella, 1998)] and the PALS [Play and Learning Strategies Program (Fewell & Wheeden, 1998)], interventions focused more directly on parents in the form of enhancing parent-child interaction or providing family support services.

The analyses examined:

  1. How interventions impacted mother-child interaction
  2. Whether changes in mothers’ style of interaction promoted through intervention were related to the developmental outcomes children attained in intervention
  3. How factors such as intensity of services and family support services contributed to the effectiveness of intervention.

Results indicated that:

  1. Interventions were effective at enhancing development when they promoted increases in mothers’ responsiveness to their children
  2. Regardless how much early intervention services children received, intervention did not enhance children’s development if it did not enhance mothers’ responsiveness with their children
  3. Neither the amount of services provided to children (i.e., intensity) nor the range of family services parents received contributed to changes in children’s developmental functioning

Implications of Study

These findings indicate that parent involvement is an essential ingredient of effective intervention. They indicate that intervention will only be successful at enhancing children’s development if it:

  • works directly with parents
  • increases children’s opportunities for responsive interactions with their parents

Findings also suggest that Intensity may be crucial to intervention effectiveness. But Intensity:

  • has little to do with children’s contact with professionals
  • is best thought of in terms of the frequency that parents and other caregivers use responsive strategies for interacting and promoting their children’s participation in the natural environment
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Responsive Teaching National Outreach is dedicated to disseminating information to parents and professionals about the use of Parent-Mediated, developmental and social-emotional interventions for all children with developmental problems and risks who are between birth to six years of age.