Parents Plus Special Needs Programme Seminar – launch of pilot programme

Press Release – 19th of June 2019

The first Parenting Programme in the world for parents of adolescents with intellectual disabilities partners with disability services across Ireland to evaluate the programme impact

Professionals working in the field of intellectual disability came together on Tuesday 18th of June at the Aishling Hotel, Dublin, as part of a research group to evaluate the new ‘Special Needs’ parenting programme for parents of adolescents with an intellectual disability developed by Parents Plus.

The first of its kind in Ireland and the world, the programme was developed by Parents Plus’s Professor John Sharry, Speech and Language Therapist Grainne Hampson and Assistant Psychologist Aoife O’ Leary in partnership with families affected by intellectual disability and with disability services across Ireland.

The research will be carried out in the form of a Randomised Controlled Trial with the disability services that gathered at the event and in partnership with Trinity College Dublin’s Dr. Charlotte Wilson, Assistant Professor in Clinical Psychology, Psychologist in Clinical Training, Suzanne McMahon and Parents Plus over the next six months.

Speaking at the event, Dr. Wilson explained “This means that the Parents Plus Special Needs Programme, as the first of its kind to undergo a Randomised Controlled Trial, can be used across the world as a valuable tool to help families with an adolescent with an intellectual disability.  The partnership with the professionals here today to engage in a Randomised Controlled Trial is not only the gold standard, but will prove that it is this specific programme that is making the difference for families.    To see Parents Plus leading the way in developing this programme for parents of adolescents with an intellectual disability is truly remarkable.  Indeed, it is because of their focus on developing evidence based programmes and the impact of their other flagship parenting and mental health programmes that I am delighted to be involved in such a momentous piece of research.”

Professor John Sharry of Parents Plus highlighted that “In developing the Special Needs Programme we worked extensively with disability services throughout the country and conducted focus groups with 97 parents who are raising an adolescent with special needs.  Their involvement and contributions are vital to ensuring that this programme is relevant and will really make a difference.  Parents of adolescents with an intellectual disability face unique challenges as their child becomes a young adult.  Research shows that this is a time of high levels of parental stress and significant difficulty.  Feedback emphasised that current parenting programmes do not meet their needs.  For us as an organisation, it is absolutely critical that we hear the voices of all families in Ireland and equip professionals to support these families through this journey.  They should never be left behind.  The Parents Plus Special Needs Parenting Programme will meet this need.”

Gina Grant of Down Syndrome Donegal stated “There is nothing like this available to these families.  They feel that they can’t ask anyone questions relevant to the needs of their teenager.  They feel lost in their community.   As a professional who delivers the other Parents Plus programmes, I know and see the value that these interventions bring to families.  The Special Needs Parenting Programme will show families affected by intellectual disability that their family and their futures are really valued.  That they matter.”

Parents Plus will launch this much needed programme in spring 2020 and with a long waiting list of services eager to begin training in and running of the programme, the team look forward to training professionals to finally reach the thousands of families across Ireland and globally who are calling out for a programme of this kind.

For media enquiries contact

Cherie Tyner, Parents Plus: (087) 6455511;

About Parents Plus

Parents Plus was founded by former Principal Social Worker at the Mater Hospital Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, and adjunct senior lecturer at the School of Psychology in University College Dublin, Professor John Sharry and Professor Carol Fitzpatrick in 1998 and established as a registered charity under the auspices of the Mater Hospital, Dublin in 2001.

Parents Plus is an Irish charity that develops practical, evidence-based parenting and mental health programmes. The organisation train professionals working with children and families both in Ireland and internationally to deliver the programmes in communities and clinical settings.

Parents Plus have developed five evidence based flagship programmes in partnership with parents and children living in Ireland and includes their specific experiences. The programmes combine a social learning model with a solution-focused preventative framework that encourages and empowers parents and children to ‘take charge’ and make positive changes in their lives.

The programmes include:

  • The Early Year’s Programme for parents of children aged 1 to 6.
  • The Children’s Programme for parents of children aged 6 to 11.
  • The Adolescent’s Programme for parents of adolescents aged 11 to 16.
  • The Working Things Out Programme targeted at adolescents aged 11-16.
  • Parenting when Separated Programme targeted at parents who are preparing for, going through or have gone through a separation and divorce.
  • The Special Needs Programme for parents of adolescents with an intellectual disability
  • The Healthy Families Programme (Currently in development)

There are over 20 studies conducted in clinical, community and disability settings to attest to the programmes effectiveness for families with children and adolescents of all ages, and for separated families.  The programmes follow international best-practice guidelines as described by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence in the UK, and they are specifically listed as evidence-based programmes by the Department of Education (UK) – and the Early Intervention Foundation –  More information about our evidence can be found on our research page here.

In the development of the PPSN we are grateful to our funders and supporters, particularly the Mater hospital and a SSNO grant for national organisations from the Dept of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government via  An Pobal