Early Intervention Strategies for Success

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  • Get the Backstory: Validating and Valuing Family Input(current)
Image: What's Your Story?

Imagine: you are sharing your deepest wishes with a trusted friend. You are sharing a cup of coffee on the couch and you feel led to begin a conversation about your goals for the coming New Year. You share your regrets from the past year and your hopes and dreams about how you envision this New Year. You are deep in thought and passionate about articulating these ambitions out loud. Your friend’s response, much to your surprise, is superficially supportive. You sense judgement but you can’t put your finger on it. Why is she being short? Why does her smile look fake? Does she realize her eyebrows just did that? You begin to wonder what her thoughts are and to feel… Vulnerable. Embarrassed. Insecure.

A Parent’s Perspective

Now, imagine that instead of talking to a dear friend, you are talking to a complete stranger in an intake meeting, no coffee involved. Instead of freely sharing your priorities for the New Year, you are being asked to name priorities you have for your most precious hope in the world—your child.

Will I be judged for what’s important to my family and me? Was that the right thing to say? Is that the kind of answer they’re looking for? Geez, I have so many I can’t even put them in order. I need help sorting this out in my head and I am entirely overwhelmed but I don’t want the lady to think I don’t care if I am too vague. Is it okay to breastfeed in here?

These are just some of the thoughts that ran through my head as a parent as I began the early intervention process with my, then, 8 month old. Some deep reflection led me to the following conclusion: From my team, I needed my priorities validated and valued so that I could begin to trust them and their input into our lives.

Building Rapport, Being Curious, and Cultivating Relationships

As service coordinators and providers, it is our job to give up control for the sake of building rapport and trust so that deeper and more meaningful impacts can be achieved during the entire early intervention journey. You might be thinking, But, I don’t control interactions! I help the family with guiding questions to get them to a point where both the clinical/developmental priorities and family priorities are aligned. We have all been there. It can be challenging to reconcile the priorities that are indicated through family and formal assessments with what the family is sharing as their priorities. However, a family’s priorities can and should be discussed informally, too, starting with the first contact you have with them.

To ponder: What barriers to active listening and getting the backstory have you experienced in your relationships and interactions with families?


Be genuinely curious about families, their daily lives, and their backgrounds. Ask for the sake of truly learning, and not documenting. Repeat back what you hear them say often to check that you are understanding their meaning. Validate them when you sense uncertainty, stress, or when they share about topics that are clearly close to their hearts. Use your intuition. Ask open ended questions—not the kind that indicates you are checking off a list, but the kind you would ask when something someone has just said has genuinely sparked your interest. Once you have a truer understanding of where a person is coming from, you can begin to introduce how early intervention can help facilitate and highlight these priorities in the family’s life using the family’s everyday routines and priorities.

To ponder: How might these initial and ongoing interactions inform your practice as you continue to cultivate a relationship with the family throughout the EI process?

So, where does that leave us? For anyone, the first step to making changes is acknowledging that change would bring an added benefit to your quality of life. Seeking help, self-referring, taking a random number that the PCP handed them and calling, showing up to appointments, answering the phone to unknown numbers– these are all indications that a family is open to change. As providers and service coordinators, the most important part of our job is to cultivate relationships that are conducive to productive and meaningful change. We begin that cultivation that by simply listening— getting the backstory so that you can truly walk alongside the family as they continue developing the rest of their early intervention narrative.   

Share with us! What are your go-to questions/conversation-starters that you have in your toolbox to help you ease into this informal approach of getting the backstory?

Photo of author

Micaela is a former early intervention service coordinator and developmental services provider. She holds a master’s degree in Early Childhood and Family Development and her passion is helping families astound themselves with all they can achieve. She is, most importantly, the mother of a beautiful little boy. She and her family have been receiving the support and services of EI since her son was 7 months old. Micaela and her husband are excited to be welcoming a little girl into the world this spring. Through this blog series, Micaela hopes to merge the distinct perspectives of a parent, a service coordinator, and a provider into a unique cultivation of meaningful insight and conversation.

7 comments on “Get the Backstory: Validating and Valuing Family Input

  • Cori Hill says:

    I love so much about this Micaela but most especially this—“Be genuinely curious about families, their daily lives, and their backgrounds. Ask for the sake of truly learning, and not documenting. “

  • Hannah Ramsey says:

    I really love this post! Valuing input is crucial to the heart of caring for these families. We are investing in their lives and this comes with genuine care. One of the most important parts of this post for me is how you discussed validation of things that are “clearly close to their hearts.” If we neglect to validate what the family values then they can not trust we fully understand and care for them. Thank you for your post Micaela!

  • Karla Garza says:

    Getting the backstory could be hard if it’s from a family who doesn’t feel too comfortable yet to talk about the situation. I would try to make them feel as safe as I could! Do you think there is a wrong or right questions to be asking in specific, if so, what are they?

  • Tracy Hoang says:

    I would use questions/conversation starters like below.
    “How was your morning/afternoon/evening?” <– It would give glimpses of how their day went. Hopefully, they are able to answer genuinely and give something about their routines. Also, it can be used to help guide the conversation to work or school.

    "You have a lovely home" and then compliment something <– With the right object and tone of voice, they would be able to tell about who/how/where they got the object from. This would allow them to talk about themselves and open up a bit more.

    With this position, you will be working the family for long periods of time, so it is important to learn information about the parental dynamics and routines, but it is equally as important to reassure the family's stress and ensure that they are comfortable in speaking.

  • Abby Miller says:

    I really resonated with your story, especially the part about loosening up on control and not always trying to “guide” parents towards priorities that are indicated through assessments. Certain barriers I can think of in getting to the backstory are fear of judgment, as well as families trying to sound professional and give answers they think providers want to hear, rather than what’s truly on their heart regarding their child’s development. When people feel heard and seen, they’re much more likely to open up, which is better for everyone involved. One of the little ways I think EI providers can strengthen their relationships is to remember small, seemingly unimportant details that the family has shared about their lives prior, like asking how a birthday went or if a cousin is advancing in sports, to show active listening and genuine interest before diving into concerns. As you said, validating and valuing input and strengthening relationships is essential for productive and meaningful change. Amazing post!

  • Sarah Davis says:

    I love this! I recently sat down with a mother at our first Early Steps session and, after listening to her almost breathlessly recount all she’s done and experienced in regards to her child, I looked at her and said, “Take a deep breath, Mama – you are doing a phenomenal job!” She literally slumped in exhaustion and said, “You truly have no idea how much that means to me!” These parents are under so much pressure – social media, insane educational milestone pressure, family “input,” etc. – they feel like they’ve failed their child. I spent the majority of that first session listening to and reassuring her – validating her feelings and efforts was definitely my priority at that time. I am going to to continue being more mindful of the families/parents because it’s so easy to go in focused solely on the child.


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