Raising a child with special needs is a difficult thing. Not only does a parent or guardian need a high tolerance level, but also knowledge on how to cope with, comfort, and teach their child. Understanding that each child is different and that their experience of the world around them is different will help parents and providers approach the child in a way that can improve deficits and lead to growth and change.

In her new book, Behavioral Challenges in Children with Autism and Other Special Needs, Diane Cullinane addresses these differences by discussing the developmental model, advances in special education and treatment modalities, and how the DIR (Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship) Model can facilitate a greater understanding of children with special needs and the strengths they need to work on developing.

One of the most common emotions of parents of children with special or developmental needs is frustration. Why? Because parents of children with special or developmental needs are not skilled at working with a child who may develop at a slower pace than other kids. Another reason is that many parents struggle to identify any kind of progress because weaknesses are so prevalent and so very clear to parents. Having the ability to understand developmental milestones beyond the typical motor development (i.e., walking, talking, playing, etc) can lend some hope to burdened parents. Cullinane’s book clearly explains normal developmental stages so parents and caregivers can identify, rather quickly, if the child is developing appropriately or where the child is in need of more skills.

Part I of the book focuses on helping the reader understand why the developmental model can help families, and even professionals, better understand a child who is struggling with developmental deficits. The reader will learn a lot about the DIR Model and how to implement its teachings in working with or raising a child with developmental challenges. Part II of the book focuses on implementing appropriate techniques in the moment.

One of the most important chapters is the chapter on relationships, which focuses on how the parent-child interaction may be affecting the child’s overall development. For example, a parent who is emotionally distant and confused by their child’s behavior may not understand how their emotional distance is contributing to the child’s inability to regulate his or her own emotions. This chapter highlights emotional interconnectedness as an important component of relationships with children with special and developmental needs. The following chapters focus on implementation of techniques and developing a long-term, future-oriented plan.

Overall, this book is a useful tool for parents, families, students, and professionals working with children who have special and developmental needs. However, there are some limitations to this book, including technical language that may be intimidating to parents and families unfamiliar with the “developmental approach” or the DIR Model. The DIR model can also be particularly intimidating as the language is not only technical but at times convoluted. Parents and families may give up on a book that seems to use terminology and concepts that require some prior knowledge of developmental psychology or behavioral health rehabilitation. Even more, some parents and families, perhaps even students and providers, may find the book dry and slightly disengaging, particularly the beginning of the book, which focuses on introducing the developmental model and the challenge of children with special and developmental needs.

In spite of a few limitations, Cullinane does a good job of providing a comprehensive review of developmental psychology, the DIR Model, and its usefulness in treating children with developmental challenges. Cullinane provides a structured and comprehensive foundation for those seeking greater knowledge of how to treat children with special needs.

Behavioral Challenges in Children with Autism and Other Special Needs: The Developmental Approach
W.W. Norton & Company, August 2016
Hardcover, 368 pages
$37.95

Psych Central's Recommendation:
Worth Your Time! +++

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