As the mother of a child with autism, Wendy Besmann saw patterns of interaction between families and treatment providers that impeded the flow of service delivery. She developed a systemic view of this process and condensed it into a 100-page workbook full of practical charts, checklists, and strategies for parents.

“Specialists are not always good at explaining complicated matters in simple terms,” she observes in a section called “Skip the Drama! How to Listen to Test Scores” from Family Road Map. Besmann offers six handy ways to politely but firmly say to a provider, “Please explain this data more clearly so I can understand your recommendations.” The underlying power/authority message: Take control of the conversation, build credibility as a knowledge player, and form a mutually-advantageous working partnership with the power gatekeeper.” An interactive Family Road Map curriculum based on the book is now taught from Maine to Hawaii by peer support and clinical/social work providers who participate in the Family Road Map Certified Trainer and Facilitator collaborative.

Family Road Map/Hoja de Ruta de la Familia classes and coaching incorporate games and tools that range from play parachutes to scrapbooking materials in order to help parents experience effective interactions.

Besmann’s next challenge is to enhance Family Road Map’s systemic approach by gathering hard data that will keep the curriculum reliable and relevant across multiple contexts. The view that informed Besmann’s earlier designs was rooted in her own experience and gradually broadened through the experiences of parent trainers who implemented and refined the curriculum. However, this ever-widening anecdotal process indicates that an Asian-American immigrant family in urban Honolulu and a Latino family in rural Arkansas may need different tools for navigating their environments. Besmann and her colleagues hope to produce comparative effectiveness research that indicates the impact of family navigation training on child health outcomes.

(Above: Wendy Besmann with her son, David at the publication of the first edition of Team Up for Your Child in 2008.)