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Sarah Douglas - Michigan State University. East Lansing, MI, US

Sarah Douglas

Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies | Michigan State University


Expertise in early childhood special education, augmentative and alternative communication, and paraeducators


Sarah Douglas focuses her research on improving the communication skills of children with autism and intellectual disabilities, including school interventions for young children and training strategies for parents, teachers, and paraeducators.

Industry Expertise (4)


Mental Health Care

Health and Wellness


Areas of Expertise (6)

Augmentative and Alternative Communication

Developmental Disabilities

Early Intervention


Early Childhood Special Education


Accomplishments (1)

Lavanda P. Muller Graduate Fellowship Recipient

2011 The Pennsylvania State University

Education (2)

The Pennsylvania State University: Ph.D. 2011

Northern Arizona University: M.A 2007

Affiliations (1)

  • Department Curriculum Committee Human Development & Family Studies

News (1)

Improving Communication Between Parents and Siblings of Special Needs Youth

MSU Today  


Sarah Douglas, a former special education teacher and principal investigator on the project, developed the training to fill a gap. While online training exists for parents of children with autism, none had been created for the broader population of special needs children with limited verbal abilities. “That’s why I’m doing this,” said Douglas, assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies. “I want families to feel like they have some control over the future of their child. That they have some control over how to navigate this world that not very many people know how to navigate, and they don’t have to sit around waiting for an expert to come to their house to give them 20 minutes of their time.”...

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Research Grants (4)

Online Training for Paraeducators to Improve Communication Supports for Young Children with Complex Communication Needs

Institute for Educational Sciences $1,400,000

2018-2022 Douglas, S. N., Bowles, R., Plavnick, J.

Validation and Feasibility of a Wearable Sensor Technology as a Tool to Measure Social Interaction for Young Children with Autism

Michigan State University $50,000

2017-2018 Douglas, S. N. & Biswas, S.

Paraeducator Training and Supervision in Michigan: Current Practice, Policies, and Future Recommendations

Michigan Applied Public Policy Research $22,082

2016-2017 Douglas, S. N. & Bowles, R.

Michigan Early Interventionists: Experience and Perceptions Related to Coaching Caregivers of Young Children with Disabilities

Early On Michigan Faculty Grant $6,913.65

2016-2017 Douglas, S. N., & Meadan, H.

Journal Articles (9)

A Systematic Review of Paraprofessional Training Materials

The Journal of Special Education

Sarah N. Douglas, Denise J. Uitto, Claudia L. Reinfelds

2018 Paraprofessional training is essential for high quality special education services. Yet, educators may struggle to select appropriate materials for paraprofessional training. A review was conducted of 26 paraprofessional training materials using a rubric designed to evaluate the alignment with federal legislation and professional standards, and use of research-based adult learning methods. Results indicate many training materials aligned with federal legislation, but varied in their content focus, alignment with paraprofessional standards, and use of adult learning methods.

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“I'm a Different Coach With Every Family”

Infants & Young Children

Meadan, Hedda, Douglas, Sarah N., Kammes, Rebecca, Schraml-Block, Kristen

2018 Early intervention (EI) service providers working with young children with developmental disabilities and delays and their families often utilize coaching practices to engage caregivers in the EI process. Within the literature, the usefulness of coaching has been identified. However, little is known about how coaching practices look in naturalistic settings and service providers' perceptions of these practices. Through the use of an online survey, this study examined beliefs and reported practices of EI service providers.

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A Pilot Study to Teach Siblings to Support Children With Complex Communication Needs

Communication Disorders Quarterly

Sarah N. Douglas, Rebecca Kammes, Erica Nordquist, et al.

2017 Siblings play an important role in the lives of children with disabilities, especially those with complex communication needs (CCN). However, children with CCN require support to learn social and communication skills. Like other communication partners, typically developing (TD) siblings may struggle to understand how to best interact with a child with CCN and may benefit from training to learn communication strategies.

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Online Communication Training for Parents of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Communication Disorders Quarterly

Sarah N. Douglas, Rebecca Kammes, Erica Nordquist

2017 Parent training is an essential part of quality programming for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, limited research exists exploring online training approaches to support parents of children with both ASD and complex communication needs (CCN; e.g., limited verbal ability), despite the many benefits that online training might have for these parents and the overall sustainability and scalability of such approaches.

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An experimental wearable IoT for data-driven management of autism


Yan Shi, Saptarshi Das, Sarah Douglas, Subir Biswas

2017 This paper reports early developments on an wearable IoT system that can be used for collecting quantified data about interactions among children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in classroom settings. The overall objective of the project is to perform data-driven detection, therapy, intervention, and progress monitoring for children with Autism. Early intervention can help support the development of social skills for children with ASD.

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Special Education Teachers’ Experiences Supporting and Supervising Paraeducators: Implications for Special and General Education Settings

SAGE Journals

Sarah N. Douglas, Shelley E. Chapin, James F. Nolan

2015 In recent years, there has been an increase in paraeducator supports, in large part because students with low incidence disabilities are being included more frequently in general education settings. As a result, special education teachers have been given additional supervisory responsibilities related to directing the work of paraeducators in special and general education settings. Many teachers, however, feel unprepared for this supervisory role.

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Teaching paraeducators to support the communication of young children with complex communication needs

Topics in Early Childhood Special Education

Sarah N Douglas, Janice C Light, David B McNaughton

2013 Paraeducators are frequent communication partners for young children with complex communication needs (CCN) in early childhood settings. This study examined the impact of instruction to paraeducators in two communication interaction strategies (IPLAN [Identify activities for communication, Provide means for communication, Locate and provide vocabulary, Arrange environment, use iNteraction strategies] and MORE [Model AAC, Offer opportunities for communication, Respond to communication, Extend communication]) on the number of communication opportunities provided by paraeducators during play activities with young children with CCN. Results of the study provide evidence that after 2 hr of one-on-one training, paraeducators increased the number of communication opportunities they provided for children with CCN, and children with CCN took an increased number of communication turns. In addition, paraeducators reported that they found the training beneficial, and the supervising teachers noted improvements in the communication support provided by the paraeducators. Limitations and future research directions are discussed.

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Online Training for Paraeducators to Support the Communication of Young Children

Journal of Early Intervention

Sarah N Douglas, David McNaughton, Janice Light

2013 Paraeducators are frequent sources of support for young children with disabilities in early childhood settings. However, they typically have limited training in providing communication opportunities for children with complex communication needs (CCN). The impact was investigated of providing training in a communication interaction strategy to three paraeducators working with young children with diagnoses of autism and developmental delay. The training included interactive online components as well as opportunities to use and ask questions about the strategy, and reflection on strategy use. After participating in the training activities, the paraeducators were observed to provide a greater number of appropriate communication opportunities during play interactions with the young children. The children with CCN also showed increases in the number of communication acts performed. In addition, paraeducator responses (including comments on child behaviors) increased. Results of social validity and generalization measures are reported. Limitations of the study are also discussed.

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Teaching paraeducators to support the communication of individuals who use augmentative and alternative communication: A literature review

Current Issues in Education

Sarah Nathel Douglas

2012 Individuals with complex communication needs (CCN) who rely on augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to communicate in school and community activities often have paraeducators as communication partners. For individuals who use AAC, successful communication often depends upon their personal skills as well as the skills of their communication partners. Because the skills of communication partners are critical, and can be taught, a review was conducted to identify the effect of teaching paraeducators to provide appropriate communication supports for individuals using AAC using studies that included data for both paraeducators and individuals with CCN. Studies were analyzed using the recommendations from the Communication Partner Instruction Model (Kent-Walsh & McNaughton, 2005). Findings from seven studies suggest that communication partner training to paraeducators can have positive outcomes for the communication behaviors of both paraeducators and individuals using AAC. Implications for practice and future research directions are addressed.

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