Using grids to assess changes in parent perceptions

Tony Downing (
Fri, 21 May 1999 16:56:44 +0100

Dear PCP-ers

Inspired by Suzanne Huffman's recent request for advice about using
change-grids to assess changes in parents taking part in a parent training
scheme, I would like to emerge from lurking on this list to ask for your
comments and advice on a small-scale project which seems rather similar in
some ways to Suzanne's.

Devi Jancowicz's prompt reply to Suzanne was very welcome for me, too, as I
had been wondering about doing exactly what he suggested for assesing
change before and after an intervention, i.e., for those constructs that
re-emerge with the same labels on the second occasion, do a matrix
subtraction of the ratings for Time 2 from the ratings for Time 1. I'm
still not quite gettng my head round the status of the resulting numbers,
though. If we process the grid in the usual way, doing either hierarchical
cluster analysis or principal components analysis, what will it mean? I
guess that any clusters that emerged, in constructs or elements, would show
up constructs or elements that had tended to change together.... (The
trailing dots denote a lingering uncertainty that has not quite left me!)

May I outling to the forum the tiny project that we are embarking on, and
ask for comments and constructive criticisms?

Our project aims are to evaluate the success of an intervention called the
Hanen Parent Interaction Programme. This is run by Speech & Language
therapists for parents of children with severe communication difficulties.
(More than half of childen in our study will be autistic - or rather, are
suspected to be autistic, as they are a bit young for a definite autism
diagnosis in the British system).

The main aim of the intervention that we shall be evaluating is to help the
parents to understand their children better, and be more discrimminating
and sensitive in recognising and encouraging incipient communication when
it happens. It relies a lot on videoing of the children with their parents
at home, and discussing the videos in the parent group. It does seem to
work well in helping the parents to feel less stressed - and though it
seems presumptuous to say so, it also seems to help them to feel that they
like their children more. The way in which it seems to be helping is by
enabling the parents to discover how to be more discriminating in seeing
what their children are doing, and recognising the extent to which they are
trying to communicate, or at least doing things that will contribute to
communication - even if these children are still are not talking (much?),
are not showing joint attention, etc.

Our project aims to provide more tangible evidence for these impressions. I
am attracted to bringing a repertory grid approach into this investigation
because it sounds to me as if what has to happen is an elaboration of the
parents' own construct systems. I'm hoping that, _if_ we can design a grid
study suitably, we will be able to go beyond saying "Yes, Hanen methods
help" to seeing, in detail, case by case, how it has helped. For this
reason, parents in the study will be asked to complete repertory grids at
the start, at the end, and several months after the end, and we want to
look for changes.

The big question is, what kind of grids? Our current line of thinking is to
have the parents consider their children in a variety of situations - e.g.
"My child when they are agitated", "My child as a newborn bady", "My child
with me at the supermarket", "My child when they are hungry", "My child in
the future". Maybe a set of situations like that could form the elements
of the repertory grid. I've no doubt that finding the right kinds of
elements is the first major objective in designing this study, but I don't
yet feel sure that we have quite got the right kinds of elements to show up
the construing changes that we have postulated. W would be enormously
grateful for comments and criticisms.

My initial idea of the design of the studyis that the rep grid data will
initially be approached as a set of independent N=1 case studies, each
relating to a given child, so that we can see the diversity of ways in
which the construct system may change. But we'rem hoping that certain
common themes will become evident, and that we will be able to justify
criteria for counting up certain sorts of change across cases. (Obviously,
this will depend partly on how things turn out! )

I'm also quite prepared to try deriving abstract measures, of variables
such as "cognitive complexity", from the grids, and using these as a common
currency for cross-case comparisons. We are also going to asessing the
parents' levels of stress in a conventional way, with a stress
questionnaire as part of each wave of data. I'd be very pleased if it
turned out that, across cases, the parents whose stress scores went down
most were the ones whose grids developed over time in the direction of
greater cognitive complexity. (Is this anathema to the true consructivist?.
I see myself as an eclecticist but I'm open to rational persuasion!).

I'd be very grateful for your comments - even if they include pointing out
to me quite basic things about PCP that I might need reminding about. PCP
is not my main field - I just think that in this project there really is
scope for the richly idiographic approach the grid methodology can provide.


Tony Downing,
Dept. of Psychology, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, England.