Imagine that you are the parent sitting on the floor watching several people who you don’t know interact with your child. At some point, the time comes to find out what they think about your child’s development. This is an anxiety-producing moment, no matter how sure you are of what’s going on with your child.
Now, imagine that the first thing you hear is, “So, I noticed that Aiden wasn’t able to…” or “Aiden has a delay in…” How would this feel to you?
Think about What You Say & How You Say It
I heard a parent once say that after she heard about her child’s delay, she wasn’t able to hear anything else at the assessment. I’ve had the same experience – my ears sort of shut off when I hear a concern about my son and my brain goes into overdrive about causes, treatments, and questions. Other parents might want to hear what the delay or concern is first to get it over with or to verify what they already know.
There is an art to sharing assessment results in a kind and honest way that’s balanced between being professional and being family-friendly. Think about your last assessment and consider what you said and HOW you said it. Ask yourself these 5 questions:
Did I start off with a negative or the concern first? – Every child has things he does well. Whether the child scored almost age-appropriately or a full year behind his chronological age, he has strengths. Find them and highlight them first. His strengths will provide the foundation for intervention and help the parents see that you recognize that the child is more than his limitations.
Was I honest in presenting both the child’s strengths and areas of concern? Or did I focus too much on one or the other? – Focusing too much on the positive does not give the parent a fair or accurate picture of the child’s development when there are delays or concerns. Focusing too much on the concerns does not help you build a strengths-based partnership with the family. Be sure that you report both.
Did I use language that everyone understands? – It’s so easy to slip into our professional jargon. There is a “real” word for every bit of jargon so watch what you say and how you say it. I’ve been in this field for 18 years and I still can’t keep abduction and adduction straight. Just say the child brings his arms closer to his body and we’ll all understand.
Did I explain what the test scores mean? – Explain that for a child who is 12 months old, a 25% delay means that his development looks like a child who is 9 months old or younger. Did the child have some scattered scores that are higher? Share them because this give families hope for progress. I found this to be especially true with families of children with more significant delays or disabilities.
Did I relate the assessment results back to the child’s everyday life? – Okay, so Aiden has global delays. What does this mean? Maybe Aiden is a really messy eater and his delays in adaptive and fine motor development help explain this. Interpret the results with families so that they understand the link between the score, the missed test items, and how they are reflected in everyday life. If Aidan can’t dump pegs out of a bottle (a test item) because he hasn’t yet developed the wrist movement, then maybe that helps us understand why he’s struggling to keep his food on his spoon.
Just like Aiden, we all have strengths and areas where we can improve in our development as early interventionists. The first step is awareness so take a few minutes and think about how you share assessment results with families. Being mindful of what you say and how you say it could make a big difference for a family who, like Aiden’s parent, is eagerly waiting to hear what you think.
Have you ever been in the parent’s shoes? What other suggestions do you have for sharing assessment results with families?
Want tips for writing up assessment results? See Writing an Honest, Balanced and Meaningful IFSP Narrative.