Visual support systems: a qualitative evaluation of the support provided to parents of children with Autism
Since the 1990s, parent-professional partnership working has seen a shift from a professionally driven model, where professionals had a power-over relationship with parents, to an empowerment model, which allows power to be created and developed through relationships. This move has enabled families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to have their priorities attended to when planning goals and intervention around Visual Support Systems (VSSs). However, there is debate as to whether a collective empowerment model of service delivery is being used effectively when planning and implementing goals around VSSs. There is also lack of information on the perceived benefits of using VSSs with children with ASD. This study aimed to explore the parental perspective and negotiation of responsibility with professionals when planning goals and service provision around VSSs and to elicit parents’ views on the changes they perceived in their children and their own abilities following the support received. Adopting a qualitative, case study methodological strategy, a total of ten participants participated in either a focus group or semi-structured interview. Thematic analysis was used to analyse data. Three major themes emerged from the data: parent-professional partnership, perceived changes in abilities and skills, and experiences of using VSSs. Sub-themes are also presented, including shared planning and decision-making, enablers and barriers of using VSSs, and professionals’ qualities. Implications for practice suggest: the need for regular discussions with parents in relation to VSSs; further examination of service delivery; the need for professionals to draw on parent-professional partnership literature; the implementation of strategies to encourage parental engagement and prevent possible barriers.