Written by Julie Higginbotham, Senior Case Coordinator, Mecklenburg County CDSA
Wow, summer is not joking around this year! We got together a few weeks ago for our monthly Table Talk Wednesday event here in Charlotte, NC, and boy, was it hot! Fortunately, we had ice cream to help cool us off as we talked about using coaching interactions and best practices with all families, regardless of their circumstances. Stacy Campbell, Speech-Language Pathologist with Speechcenter, Inc., and Sandra Burgos, Service Coordinator with the Mecklenburg County CDSA, helped frame up our topic by acknowledging that using natural learning environments and coaching strategies can work with every family, but it might look different for each one. A major premise in early intervention involves addressing parents’ learning styles so we can increase their abilities to support their children in daily routines, and we have to be sensitive and build a rapport with each parent. Sometimes, there are factors to consider related to parents’ mental health or learning needs that must be considered, but how do we do that in a way that is supportive and encouraging?
Folks started by talking about different diagnoses that have come up with families they’ve served over the years:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Split Personality Disorder
- Cognitive Delays
- Speech Delays
There are so many things we can do to help gather information about how to move forward once we’re aware of a particular concern. You may come across one of these hurdles when a family tells you about them, but sometimes you start to realize that you need to take a different approach after ongoing interactions with families. Some scenarios mentioned were:
- Discussing medical updates with a family that don’t seem to match up with things you are seeing or have gotten via other sources;
- Having a parent tell you that you didn’t do something that you did;
- Feeling like a family isn’t being truthful about how things are going or how their child is doing;
- Not being able to predict how each interaction will go because they are each so different from one contact to the next; and
- Just not feeling the connection with the family and wondering how to improve that relationship.
Folks were so reflective in thinking about how to better understand when these things happen, and one person hit the nail on the head – you can’t take it personally, and you have to be even more sensitive and thoughtful to best support that team and family. People mentioned using some kind of documentation, like notes or a video of sessions, to help keep parents and professionals on the same page together. Another said that keeping things light and using humor when reminding families of previous interactions can prevent hurt feelings on either side. As we talked about the foundation of parents as experts, another person said that we genuinely have to believe that parents really do know their children better than we do, regardless of other circumstances, or else parents will see right through us. Even if we think we know what would be best for a family, we’re there to focus on their priorities and strengths to meet the outcomes on the IFSP, and they really are the experts in the room.
We also discussed some strategies that we can use with any family, but even more specifically when we run into some of these road blocks through the course of services and supports. Remember, though, that these are all things to use after finding out if they would even work for the family. How would we do that? Through reflective questions, of course! 🙂
- Some families are visual learners, others are more auditory, and still others need some time to process a visit to figure out what they want to do next. Written materials, videos, and follow-up phone calls might work to make the process run a bit more smoothly.
- Some families struggle with remembering who is who on the team, whether contact is made in person, in a text, or over the phone, so clearly identifying yourself and your role might be key to more functional interactions. When in teaming situations, like IFSP reviews, you can revisit everyone’s hand in the game when looking at team pages and service delivery pages.
- When using reflective questions, being too abstract could put a speed bump in your way. We have to be reflective throughout our day to move from one part to the next, whether that means deciding what to wear based on the weather or getting everything ready to take a child to the grocery store. Using reflective questions and building in more concrete concepts can engage a family in joint planning and developing routines-based activities because they are more familiar with their own daily routines.
- If you start a visit with asking the family how they are doing, you may get more information about how the visit is going to go. When joint planning based on previous visits, you may find that the family is in a totally different place with things. Meet them where they are and address their priorities and concerns in the moment, and recognize that each visit might be a new start for that family.
- As with any family, take opportunities to point out moments when a parent knew exactly what her child wanted, or when she remembers something she tried that worked out well to make another routine better. When there are mental health or cognitive challenges noted, we may need to make extra effort to help families see that we really are there to help them feel more confident and competent, as opposed to being there because they aren’t doing a good job.
- Teaming is critical for every family. If we are talking to each other and reflecting on our own work with families, we can find ways to pull together to be consistent and supportive to meet each individual family’s needs.
We’re all growing together as we try to figure out the best way to individualize supports for children and families, and this includes considering other factors related to how parents learn. Regardless of whether or not there are specific developmental or mental health concerns, our goal is to build a relationship and know what families’ priorities are so we know how to help with things they find challenging. Bear in mind, too, that there are lots of resources available to you, including those outside of Infant-Toddler Program supports. Reach out when you need support, and give yourself credit for growing with the rest of us.
After our icy craziness over the winter, we are excited to have our February Table Talk Wednesday event rescheduled for August 19, 2015. We’ll be brainstorming about using assistive technology and exploring ideas around Making Something Out of Nothing. It’s going to be fantastic – join us, and bring a colleague for this great discussion!