Written by Julie Higginbotham, Senior Case Coordinator, Mecklenburg County CDSA
The struggle is real, folks. You’ve likely had that moment with families when you’re asking about daily routines and how a child is participating in each one, making sure to talk about how all areas of development tie into them all. Then it happens – you see the child moving across the room……on his bottom….using his heel as an anchor to pull himself forward. While you’re trying to quiet the alarms going off in your head that are signaling concerns related to both motor and cognitive development, the parent sits up proudly and shares that the child has just figured out how to do that, and how cute is he when he leaves those little half-moon marks on the carpet with his rear end? So, here’s the thing. First of all, it is kinda cute, and really pretty creative when a child wants to get from Point A to Point B without having to change positions and crawl to get there. Second of all, alarms aside, how do you move forward and potentially take the wind out of this proud parent’s sail when addressing family routines and sharing information about child development?
This is where the educational model that is early intervention has to take the front seat, and we have to find a way to incorporate the great things we bring to the table as professionals while using coaching interactions with families. Sharing information is an important part of your role on the team, but timing is everything. Not only do you have to frame it up in the context of natural learning environment practices, you have to start with gathering information about the parent’s priorities and concerns, which may or may not include said scooting. I like to refer back to the training where we took A Closer Look at Coaching in Natural Learning Environments and the intention of reflective questions (go to the section about “Questions, Questions, and More Questions” on that post).
When I think about situations I’ve come across over the years, the ones that are the most challenging are the ones that involve more of my own assumptions or alarms that interfere with my reflective interactions with families. If my goal is to lead the parents to my concerns, intentionally point out that the scooting isn’t a good thing, or attempt to validate the things I think I already know, I’ve taken away my ability to objectively gather information, and I have put my priority first. I’ve also completely contradicted what I told the family on the front end about truly believing that parents are the experts on their child and that their priorities are what guide our supports and services. Ugh – I hate the feeling that I haven’t allowed the family to take the lead and share their perspective! For me, I like to start with my go-to awareness statement – “Tell me more about that.”
This sentence comes in handy in a variety of ways. When the conversation comes up about how the child is moving around, “Tell me more about that” is a great way to get more information about how the child is scooting around and how he figured out to do that. I like this because it helps me feel like I’m using the idea of reflective questions without posing each one as an actual question, and it fits into just about every situation. If you ask some of my colleagues, they’ll even show you how silly I look because I talk with my hands when I say it. 🙂 Regardless of my style, though, this awareness statement can then help me figure out whether or not it’s a priority by asking my go-to analysis question, “How’s that working for you?” This is where I feel like the road splits – some families are so relieved that the child is moving, and others may be worried because their child can’t go from scooting to pulling up and cruising during their daily routines without help. If it becomes a priority, we can move forward and address it. If not, that’s OK – so many times, parents may feel like something is working just fine until it’s not or until you talk about another routine where the scooting isn’t as functional as they would like it to be.
So, when do we get to move from gathering to sharing information? When the scooting is a priority, and we’ve identified a routine impacted by the scooting, starting with reflective questions helps me figure out what the family knows and has already tried. Once I have that piece of the puzzle, asking permission to share what I know lets me partner with the family to see how more specific and individualized strategies could fit into their daily routines to address the scooting. I may know a lot of great stuff from so many years of working with amazing families and teams, but if I can’t tailor what I know to the family’s specific situation, I’m just throwing everything I have out there and hoping something will stick. That doesn’t feel like my goal is to help a family feel more confident in the things they are doing to support their children. It feels more like I needed to dump all that out to quiet the alarms. Once we’ve addressed the specific routine, I will usually use a go-to action statement, “Tell me how this might look in other routines during the day.” If I’ve asked the right questions and have tailored the information I have shared to that specific family, this will usually flow pretty nicely into a conversation about natural learning opportunities throughout the day when the family can incorporate an activity or two into other routines.
There are so many situations that you may encounter in your work with children and families, such as the child who is so adorably talking around her paci, but you see a barrier to communicating effectively, or the little one who is so independent and never asks for help, but you are concerned about whether he is somewhere on the autism spectrum. For me, I tend to use this process the most as a service coordinator writing and monitoring an IFSP, as an evaluator gathering information as a team member for the IFSP, or as a supervisor supporting others working alongside me. I have to consciously think about it, and often even stop and say that I have a question, but I need to figure out how I want to ask it. Regardless of your role on the team, it can be a struggle to know when to go from gathering information to sharing information, and the alarms that go off in our heads can get in the way of those reflective and coaching interactions we know are best practice as early interventionists. So keep calm and reflect on so you know when to share your info!