Researchers paying area families to help with special needs study

WSBT 22 photo 

Data collection begins this week on a study that could help families across our area and internationally.

Notre Dame has partnered with the LOGAN Center thanks to a grant from the National Institutes of Health. They are looking for families that include a child with special needs.

The goal is to help those families better communicate and eliminate stress.

Researchers are looking for families that include: a couple that is married or living together, a child of any age with an intellectual disability, and a typically developing teenager (Ages 11 to 17).

The team will be evaluating the effectiveness of a conflict intervention program in what's being called ND-SPARC or Notre Dame's Supporting Parent-Adolescent Relationships and Community Project.

That program helps couples and families better communicate and deal with challenges.

Studies show relationships between couples and typically developing siblings are often neglected when there is another child with a disability.

And right now, there aren't a lot of programs to help those relationships.

This latest research will help families work on those relationships.

"I personally am a sib," says Dr. Joshua John Diehl from the LOGAN Center.

Diehl knows the ups and the downs of being the sibling of a person with a disability.

"My brother was born with a developmental disability and he has been an inspiration for all my work," he says.

Diehl is the Chief strategy officer for autism services at LOGAN. His brother Shane is two years younger.

"You know, my brother was the first child who was included in a general education in my school district," says Diehl, "so, growing up so he was really a pioneer." Now, so is Diehl.

Diehl is one of the principal investigators in a project to support families like his.

"Typically, families that are in these high stress situations, just naturally can be prone to more conflict," says Diehl, "what this program is doing is putting supports in place such that we can help these families."

Thanks to the NIH grant, the ND-SPARC project will provide families with conflict and communication strategies.

"It is designed to help increase their emotional security in the family, help parents handle conflict better and help the children cope better with the stresses of the environment," says Dr. Mark Cummings, Professor of Psychology at the William J Shaw Center for Children and Families.

Cummings developed the program at Notre Dame. It's based on decades of research. He is now one of the principal investigators to the ND-SPARC project.

Families are taught different types of conflict, how it impacts marriages and the parent-child relationship and how to resolve conflicts and have more positive conversations.

"So we have them have conversations. We want them to be as similar as they can to conversations they have at home -- talking about topics they talk about or issues they feel need to be resolved that they haven't been able to resolve," says Dr. Katie Bergman, the project director.

There is a similar study taking place at Notre Dame right now that is looking into how families community with a new baby in the home. But, this latest research project will specifically help families that include children with special needs.

"We know these are constructive ways of handling conflict -- we have done research showing it is. If parents handle conflict in these ways, the marriages improve, the relationship between the parents improve and the adjustment of all the children in the family is improve," says Cummings.

The project will be conducted in South Bend and Fort Wayne. Researchers are working right now to recruit 150 families. The families will work with project staff over the course of several months. The information researchers learn from the families will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the conflict intervention program.

"Children are very sensitive to a parents relationship so how parents handle these matters is import for their development. If they can handle it constructively its a big positive. Destructively, it can be a problem," says Cummings.

Diehl knows that first hand.

Now, just like Diehl has helped his younger brother through the years, he will now be shepherding this project as well.

"Rarely do you see a study at this stage that will have a direct impact on the community -- it will have a direct impact on real families that we see everyday," says Diehl.

If you would like more information on the project or to see if you qualify:


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