Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Human Ecology

Major Professor

Vey M. Nordquist

Committee Members

Jo Lynn Cunningham, Susan Benner, Sharon Lesar Judge


Profound changes have taken place in the way professionals work with families who have young children with disabilities. These changes have taken place because of revisions in what professionals believe is best practice and changes in laws that govern early intervention. Although previous researchers have addressed many questions pertaining to how best to serve young children and their families in early intervention, no previous researchers have used qualitative methods to explore parental perceptions of early intervention service coordination.

Mothers with children with special needs who resided in all nine districts served by Tennessee's Early Intervention System were interviewed. The sample included 18 mothers served by 16 service coordinators (28% of those in the state).

Mothers consistently described service coordinator behaviors that fit firmly within the family-centered intervention paradigm. Two broad themes that emerged from the interview data included the development of a healthy mother-professional system and concerns about the early intervention system. Mothers indicated that they received both instrumental and emotional support from their service coordinators. Mothers also indicated that they contributed to their early intervention relationships and that they had unique ways of dealing with the early intervention system. Concerns about the early intervention system included a shortage of information about the system, a shortage of resources, insufficient support from other professionals, and concerns about specific early intervention policies.

A number of suggestions for change were made by mothers about the overall early intervention system. Mothers indicated that they wanted to be more knowledgeable about all the services within early intervention system that they may need to use in the future. Mothers indicated that they wanted their children's physicians to communicate better with them. Mothers also indicated that they did not like the process for the Individualized Family Service Plan.

Suggestions for changes in both policy and practices used by early intervention professional s were discussed. Future research to address concerns raised by this research needs to be initiated.

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