Written by Julie Higginbotham, Senior Case Coordinator, Mecklenburg County CDSA
So, the other day, I was flipping through the channels and ran across one of the oh-so-many weight loss shows. Of course, within a few minutes, I hear the familiar phrase, “It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change!” Because my brain never really turns off, it made me think about the changes in early intervention as we’ve been working to perfect the work that we do to support children and families. A lot of the shift has been in the way that we talk about the philosophy, and I had to laugh because the next thought was, “It’s not just about using the right words, it’s about believing it and showing it through our actions.” (I did not, however, use an impactful pause to let it sink in for the audience because, well, it was just me.) Seriously, though, I truly love my job because it’s so much more than a job to me. In my work, I have the opportunity to work directly with each wonderful family I get to follow regularly, but I also get to provide other layers of support to other professionals. We use the Seven Key Principles: Looks Like / Doesn’t Look Like on a regular basis to describe the philosophy, and it makes me exceptionally happy when someone “gets it” and sees something outside of the obvious supports for children and families. As I have thought about the way I discuss early intervention with both families and professionals, it occurred to me that I use the phrase “It’s not just about ____” on a fairly regular basis, so I thought I would share a few that always come to mind.
“It’s not just about coming in each week, working with your child, and telling you we’ll see you again next week.” This one is a biggie for me – with families, it comes up during initial visits, when we’re discussing additional services, when we start services, and any other time that it seems appropriate. With professionals, I tend to use this when I’m training new staff, either for folks I will directly supervise or as I’m going through the NICU orientation information with other fresh, smiling faces. It’s so important for people to see beyond the direct time we spend with families and instead focus on the other hours of the week when the family is on their own in their daily routines.
“It’s not just about playing.” There has been an interesting journey around this one because, over the years, supports have moved from a more clinical model, on to more playing, and now on to looking at all natural routines and learning opportunities for children. What about that 5% of learning happens through play info? I can’t count how many times parents have told me about a random moment during the day when they tried something new and saw a huge impact their routines….and it had nothing to do with playtime on the floor. Those are moments that show me that the family “gets it,” too.
“It’s not just about routines that are happening right now.” I feel like I use this one the most as I’m talking folks through the process of babies leaving the NICU or as we’re working with families who don’t have any “concerns” within their routines. Outcomes are meant to look forward to the next six months, and there’s always a next step in a routine. For example, when we’re working with the teeny ones that are doing well, there may not be things that are “atypical,” but that will certainly be great when they happen, like sleeping through the night. There could also be a toddler with hearing loss who is making great gains in development, but will always be ready to move on to the next bit of independence in his or her day. This leads me to the next one….
“It’s not just about concerns.” If we go into a home and only ask what a family is “concerned” about, we could be setting ourselves up for a few different things. The best-case scenario is that they will open up and talk about challenging routines. While this is nice and makes us look like rock stars when we write our outcomes, it’s not always what happens. Another possible scenario involves a family that shuts down because what they may have heard was, “So, what’s wrong with your child that we can help you with?” That’s not what we meant at all, but we can’t control what a parent heard us say. A third scenario is the family whose child is doing well, so without “concerns,” they decide to exit the program. Of course, it’s a voluntary program, and a family can exit at any time, but when they’re eligible to stay, isn’t it nice when we can look outside of the box of concerns and problems, and instead shift to the families’ priorities and what they want to see happening a bit down the line?
There is something to be said for helping parents realize the good things they are doing for themselves and their families. There is often a visible shift in a parent’s body language, facial expression, tone of voice, or the general air about them when they become a little more confident and feel like they’ve done something well. When situations are more challenging, I stop and think about at least three strengths I see in a family to shift my thoughts in the right direction. I truly believe, with every fiber of my being, that all parents are amazing and that supporting children and families through a natural and routines-based approach is most effective. What do you think? Are there things you hear yourself saying to families or other professionals that shed light on your own thoughts and ideas?