Logan’s annual IFSP review is underway and you are excited to celebrate his progress. You’ve been working with his family for a year so you’ve seen the steady pace at which Logan continues to develop. When he first entered early intervention, he was only two months old and doing most of the things a two-month-old needed to do. Now that he’s 14 months old, his delays appear more significant but you want his parents to remain hopeful so you and your colleagues explain the assessment results, celebrating his gains and acknowledging the next skills to come.
When the team discusses the child outcomes summary process, the service coordinator uses the Decision Tree (PDF, New Window) as a guide. Because of his age and slow but steady progress, Logan is showing very early skills when compared to his same age peers, which sounds very different from the discussion the team had last year. You want to help Logan’s parents understand why this is, but then another team members drops this question:
“So what do we think? Is Logan a 1 or a 2 now?”
“OMG,” you think, “Logan is NOT a number!” Now what do you do?
Children are Not Numbers on the Decision Tree
This is an important point that ALL team members need to understand. The discussion about the child outcomes and the Decision Tree (PDF, New Window) should never include labeling a child with a number. It should be about using the information you have to make an informed decision as a team that describes Logan’s development according to the three global child outcomes (“global” because these are outcomes we’d like to see for all children during their early childhood years).
During the meeting, the team describes the child’s development using summary statements on the Decision Tree, not numbers (see the Child Outcomes Booklet (PDF, New Window) for more info). The numbers on the Decision Tree can be thought of as categories that describe skill development related to the child outcomes – not categories of children. For example, “Category 1” includes a summary statement (or description) that tells us that Logan has “very early skills in this area. This means that [Logan] has the skills we would expect for a much younger child.” This does NOT mean that “Logan is a 1.” While the service coordinator does have to report a number for each outcome in documentation back at the office, and these numbers are referred to as “child ratings” according to the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), it’s a really good idea to let go of the idea that the child outcomes discussion results in a number for the child. Let. It. Go.
Here’s why: If you hold this belief, even an underlying belief in linking a child to a number, then you will convey this belief to the family. No parent wants their infant or toddler rated or numbered. It can be hard enough for a parent to hear the age equivalency scores from the assessment tool. Parents must be involved in the child outcomes discussion, and we want them to understand the process – a process that, admittedly, can be hard to explain.
The Words You Use Matter – Tips for Developing Your Script
The words you use to explain this process matter. Yes, some parents may be mentally exhausted by the time you get to this discussion, but that does not mean you should sugarcoat it, skip it, or hurry through it, which can be tempting to do. It can also be tempting to let the professional team members discuss the process without much explanation for the parent. To avoid this, try these tips:
- Write down a sample script for how you can explain the process to all team members (including and especially the parent) without assigning the child a number, then let a colleague read it and give you feedback.
- Read it out loud to yourself and see how it sounds.
- Listen to how others explain the process and “borrow” their words.
- Ask families who are already enrolled in your program what they understood about the child outcomes discussion from their initial or annual IFSP meeting.
Here’s a big one: Dig in a bit and reflect – Are you the team member who asked about a child’s “number” at an assessment or IFSP meeting? If you are, then it’s a good thing to recognize that now and commit to a change in thinking for your next assessment or IFSP meeting.
There is No Need to Pick a Number at the Meeting
How you explain the process will likely differ from your colleague’s script and that’s okay. The words you use may change a bit with each meeting depending on your style, the team with whom you work, the family’s understanding and learning needs, etc. The important point here is to think about the message you (and your team members) convey with the child outcomes process. There is no need to “pick a number” for a child during the meeting, but there is a need to be accurate, respectful, and sensitive while helping all team members understand, participate in the process, and identify summary statements to describe the child’s development.
Open the door for this discussion with your team members using the questions here, or share your thoughts by adding a comment below:
How do you explain the child outcomes discussion process to families? What are your go-to phrases to help all team members understand?
If a team member tries to pick a number at the meeting, what could you say in response?
For more information, check out these resources:
Virginia’s Child Outcomes Booklet (PDF, New Window)