Education: The Great Equaliser!
Hello and welcome,
The following points have been expanded in the books available via my web site. They contain much more about accessing learning and the development of valuable skills.
If You Don’t Do It Who Will?
A family very often needs support to cope with a disability and to help their disabled child reach her or his potential. Areas to consider during early years are,
Adjusting to the birth of a baby with a disability
Normal Events Triggering Anxiety
Normal life events may increase anxieties for the child, young person and family. For example:
First entry into school
A normal experience such as changing school can have the unfortunate effect of resurrecting in your mind unpleasant experiences involving your child from the past ...
Even after much research, evidence still suggests that parents are given little information at the time of diagnosis …
Parental involvement is very important. Parents need to be seen as equal partners …
School and Parental Relationship
The relationship between parents and the school has a major impact on the child’s educational progress. If parents are to collaborate with teachers, they need information and advice about the provision being made for their child …
Family Reactions to Having a Disabled Child
It is commonly believed that there is a continuum of reactions which parents may experience before they are able to come to terms with their child’s disability. These are,
Some families adapt quickly whilst others take much longer. The list is not followed strictly by everyone. Each stage may also be revisited later in life.
Noticing a Problem
Some parents notice a problem, for example with vision when,
They cannot engage with baby using eye contact
Other parents first notice a significant difference,
When their child is at school and not progressing at the same speed as children of a similar age
Feeling Let Down by Professionals
Parents may trust and expect professionals to provide appropriate advice and support. Then, at key times support may be required from more than one professional …
Parents commonly request,
Understandable information in functional terms on their child’s disability; for example, an eye condition
Independent information on suitable educational placements
For parents of a multi-disabled child respite care might also be a significant issue. Also, information on,
Short term fostering
A child with a disability has an impact on the whole family. Some parents become very absorbed with their baby’s life and this may be passed on to brothers and sisters. A sibling may worry or become resentful of the attention given to the new disabled baby …
Grandparents may also need consideration. There can be tensions between parents and grandparents …
The same difficulties apply to parents and grandparents from ethnic minorities …
The same issues also apply to parents of a child who is multi-disabled, as they have to work with the extra demands that multiple disability brings …
Time and Financial Cost
Many trips to the hospital or clinic can be time consuming. Travel and overnight stays are expensive …
Managing the Situation
Some parents do not feel that they possess the necessary skills and this can make them feel vulnerable. A long list of professionals may be involved which can be confusing …
Ideally, the statutory services, health, social services and the education authority will work together and offer parents all the support needed at diagnosis and beyond …
Parent Baby Bonding
If a child is born severely sight impaired (blind), a consequential lack of eye contact may affect mother baby bonding. These difficulties can increase if baby has to stay in hospital and away from mother …
As the child grows parents may value advice about how to encourage,
Feeding, dressing and toilet training
The use of specialist equipment
A toy library based in a local child development centre or charity may be of great value …
School Years Communication and Avoiding Misunderstanding
Parents characteristically want and need full and candid information during their child’s schooling. Good communication between home and school is vital. This can occur via,
Comprehensive and accessible reports
This may sound obvious but still a great deal of conflict arises through poor communication with these simple methods unused …
Issues of concern often encountered include,
Puberty and addressing the physical changes taking place if for example, your child who is blind
Wanting to assert him or herself regarding individuality and independence but restricted by independent travel and social communication skills …
Consequently, at all stages, opportunities for the whole family to explore their feelings and to understand the views of others can be helpful and to bring this about support is often needed.
For both professional and the family setting up a working relationship can be difficult. The situation can be volatile with a lot of pain and raw emotion floating around. From time to time everyone gets it wrong. Often, from the outset, being prepared to apologise and then sitting down to work things through is the best way forward.
Professionals Not Giving Enough Information
Professionals often select the information they think relevant and offer only the information they feel is required. This can create dependency on the professional and prevent equal interaction from taking place.
It can be argued that professionals deploy this model to help promote status. Consequently there is a danger here of professionals working to meet their own needs not those of the family. This can undermine trust and cause antagonism.
Professionals Expecting Too Much From Families
Many professionals recognise the importance and usefulness of working with parents. They pass on teaching skills, involve parents in an assessment along with educational or therapeutic programmes. However, this approach often assumes that parents share the same aims and beliefs as the professional. Also, it can be assumed, sometimes incorrectly, that parents have the skills, time and motivation to carry out the suggested programme.
Moving in the Right Direction
Negotiation within the context of a mutually respecting relationship is usually the best foundation. Decision making is within the parents’ control and as a result, parents may choose to reject advice and support which can be difficult for the professional to accept.
Often, it is not what you say but how you say it
From the outset clearly set out the parental and professional role so neither has incorrect expectations of the other
Whilst there is no excuse for unprofessional behaviour, don’t forget that a professional might be,
Having a bad day too
Going through a difficult situation at home
Be experienced in managing such a complex and volatile situation
The Value of Consultation
Parents offer invaluable information about their child’s response to learning and development. They should therefore share in the planning and implementation of their child’s education and development …
Offering family support requires a recognition of the many pressures, challenges and changes in circumstance that might manifest when having a disabled child; for example,
Relationship with a partner
And concerns about,
When engaging with a family, some professionals can carry with them their own perceptions of right and wrong and what is acceptable or unacceptable behaviour. They can forget that their own views may have been developed whilst being brought up in a different socio-economic group or culture. Unfortunately, being a good teacher for example and trained to work in schools does not necessarily transfer into being a good home visitor with the understanding necessary to enter what is perhaps a dysfunctional situation where a family is trying to work through the trauma of having a disabled child.
A Few Suggestions
Constantly consider the limitations of what you can and cannot do and, what you know and where your knowledge is limited
Avoid saying I know when this isn’t the case. If you don’t know say so but you will find out
All professionals have limitations. Consequently, clear objectives should be set based on knowledge and experience
Always give clear feedback after a meeting to include what was discussed and what are the Action Points for all concerned
Objectively review your intervention. Ideally, this will take place during regular supervision where you can openly and safely discuss casework
A Working Relationship But Not Too Close
It is important to build a good working relationship whilst avoiding getting too close and thereby trying to solve issues outside your role. For example, peripatetic teachers should not become counsellors or surrogate mothers and move beyond their field of expertise. At best, a confusing message may be sent and could even cause harm through dabbling and opening up issues difficult to resolve.
Dialogue with Other Professionals
All professionals should be prepared to keep an open dialogue with other professionals from other disciplines. This is particularly the case if the child is multi-disabled. Parents should be kept in the loop with feedback about any discussions taken place.
Visits and Meetings
A meeting or visit may cause concern based on the actual or perceived reason for the meeting. A feeling may exist whereby a professional may have to be judgmental about the situation, family and home. A professional, after all, is the agent of an organisation which may control the allocation of resources and, for various reasons may not be highly thought of by the family.
The time of a visit might be inconvenient. Parents can feel that objecting might undermine the support given. Therefore, ensure that the time chosen for a visit is in fact mutually acceptable.
Consider the frequency of visits so the family has time to implement or try the suggestions made at the last meeting
If the child is multi-disabled several professionals might be visiting and taking up too much time in an already busy day
Ensure the family know what your role is and why you are visiting
Families often feel that they are being judged with the information placed on file. This fear may be masked behind politeness
A Task Centred Approach
A Task Centred approach can be developed as a short term method of supportive intervention. It builds on people’s strengths, focuses on what works rather than what doesn’t.
This approach offers a way of working through complex issues in a methodical way and in bite size chunks. It softens many of the problems encountered when parents work with professionals.
The stages are,
During this stage the parent and key professional develop a partnership as the basis for future work. The agreement is explicit about what sanctions the work.
Explore the Issues Needing to be Addressed
Together the parent and professional explore the range of issues in a systematic way. Issues are scanned at a general ‘headline’ level. The main focus is on the issues identified by the parent. The professional is explicit about any additional issues identified.
Detail Each Issue
What specifically is the nature of the issue?
What or where does the problem occur?
Who is involved in the problem?
Why is it a problem?
How is it a problem
Select one or at most two problem areas to work on at a time.
The Written Agreement
The piece of work is then guided by a negotiated agreement. It consists of:
The selected problem(s)
An agreed goal e.g. “I want to .../ We want to ...”
A time limit by which the goal will be achieved and a plan to indicate the frequency and pattern of contacts
Working on Tasks and Reviews
At each session, the parent and professional review progress on tasks agreed at the previous session. They then develop new ones which will move them closer to achieving the goal.
Evaluating and Ending the Work
Having evaluated the piece of work the intervention is ended. If other problems exist or a fresh problem arises a new Mandate is produced.
This method offers a quantifiable way of breaking down a complicated situation into bite sized chunks. Each problem area is then addressed methodically.