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Supporting Parents to Manage Challenges: The Special Needs Programme

Supporting Parents to Manage Challenges: The Special Needs Programme

The Parents Plus Special Needs Programme is a first-in-the-world programme for families rearing an adolescent with an intellectual disability and was created to help parents to manage challenges, improve their family’s well-being and strengthen their links with other parents. 

Through training in the Special Needs Programme, professionals working with families and children will learn how to empower parents to positively manage the many hidden challenges and isolation that can be common for parents of adolescents with an intellectual disability, as well as improve the well-being of all family members and prepare young people for future transitions and adulthood. 

Who is the Parents Plus Special Needs Programme for?

This unique programme is primarily targeted at parents of adolescents who have an intellectual disability in the mild, moderate or severe range and who are 11- 18 years old. The programme is suitable for adolescents with a primary diagnosis of an intellectual disability but who may have additional diagnoses such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as well as physical disabilities and medical conditions.

Can the PPSN programme be used for young adults?

The programme can also be used with young adults 18 to 25 years old. Many of the challenges for parents of young adults with intellectual disabilities are similar to those of parents with adolescents, meaning that the programme will have similar benefits. In addition, during the transition to adult services many parents experience a fall of in-service support so this can be a good time to run the PPSN programme with families.

Can the PPSN programme be used with children younger than 11 years?

Some elements of the programme are relevant for all age groups, particularly the ‘Parent Self-care sections and some of the ‘Supporting Families’ and ‘Supporting Children’ sections. However, many other parts, specifically target the needs of adolescents with an intellectual disability and are focused on issues such as the transition into adult services etc. If you are running a PPSN programme group, you can include some parents with children with intellectual disabilities who are younger than age 11. In these instances, it is best to meet them in advance and explain the content of the course and check if they still want to attend.

However, if your main target group is parents of younger children with an intellectual disability, we generally recommend that you use adapted versions of the age-specific Parents Plus programmes. The Parents Plus Early Years programme is successfully used with parents of children with special needs who are aged 1 to 8 years. Some of the video footage in the PPEY was made with parents of children with a mild intellectual disability and within the programme there is the potential to make individual videos with families whose children have a moderate or severe intellectual disability to tailor it to their needs. For parents of children with an intellectual disability who are aged 8-11 years, a combination of the Parents Plus Early Years and Children’s programme is recommended.

In delivering the Parents Plus Early Years or Children’s programmes to parents of a child with intellectual disabilities, you can draw on some of the ideas and relevant session plans from the Parents Plus Special Needs Programme.

If you would like to learn more about our work or any our suite of 8 evidenced-based professional training programmes you can contact Vicki Byrne at with any specific enquiries or questions you have.