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Reflections on Good or Bad in Early Intervention – Watch this Video!

Recently, my colleague, David Munson from Montana, shared a Ted Talk video that really moved me. This video features Heather Lanier, an essayist, poet, and mother, sharing her experience of raising her daughter. The video is about more than just a mother and daughter, though. Ms. Lanier digs deeper into our perceptions of differences and disability and how those perceptions affect how we value (or judge) functional abilities and the lives of the children with whom we work.

Take 13 minutes to watch:

 

Reflections on Good and Bad

As a general rule, I think most of us know that it’s not our role to place judgments about “good” or “bad” when working with children and families. We know we need to be objective and we try to be, but the reality is that objectivity can go too far or judgments can creep in. Being too objective, or too clinical, can rob the partnership we should have with parents of the compassion and sensitivity we need to help them make choices and adapt intervention strategies to fit into their lives. Judgments can creep in and show themselves in how we speak, in our actions, and in our intentions. It’s up to us to monitor our messages to ensure that they facilitate that partnership, rather than derail it.

What Did You Think About…?

What did you think about how Ms. Lanier describes the therapist who shook her baby’s shoulders and told her to “wake up?” Those actions, and even the phrase “waking up her neurology” implied to this parent that something was wrong. I can’t help but wonder if the OT had good intentions, but the message and how it was conveyed was received as a judgment. This reminds me of how important it is for early interventionists to be mindful of our messages. We are not judges, we don’t decide “good” or “bad.” Instead, we can bring our appreciation of a child’s individuality to our visits. We can be compassionate about the parent’s experience and celebrate development while helping the parent find ways to encourage the child’s independence. This involves balancing how we share our expertise while honoring what’s important and meaningful to the family. Again, it’s on us.

The Balance: Sharing our Expertise While Honoring the Family’s Priorities

Did you catch how Ms. Lanier described how her daughter’s first therapists wanted to place a splint on her hand to spread her fingers, but this would prevent her from actually using her fingers? This made me pause…I thought, surely those therapists were thinking long-term about the child’s hand functioning. However, the parent’s perspective on how these splints limited the child’s ability to use her fingers in the immediate moment was powerful too. I think we often make recommendations like this, from good intentions and based on our clinical experience. Professional recommendations, though, should always be tempered with how these recommendations affect everyday life. What would promote the child’s best abilities both now and in the future? How do we balance sharing our expertise with honoring the family’s priorities? How do you do this without judgment when the parent doesn’t agree with or implement your recommendation? Challenging stuff.

Clearly, as Ms. Lanier describes, this balance is best achieved by a collaborative, strengths-based partnership between parents and service providers, one that is built on “openness and curiosity” and a healthy respect for what matters most to each family. This reminds me that we are not the vehicles of intervention – that honor goes to the family. Instead, we are the messengers. We share what we know, help families use what they choose, and provide support as they enjoy their child and help her achieve her highest potential. The balance is in the partnership.

Celebrating and Supporting Families – We Can Do Both

I truly believe that we can approach families with the “openness and curiosity” Ms. Lanier mentions. We can celebrate families and children for who they are through our words, our actions, and our choices about how to provide support. We can do these things AND encourage a child’s happy, healthy development and independence. We can be sources of kindness and hope for families, while still providing meaningful, individualized support as they “watch their child’s life unfold.” We can do this without judging good or bad, because, as Ms. Lanier reminds us, at any given moment, it’s hard to say which is true and maybe those tight constraints of objectivity and passing judgment could be holding us, and those we work with, back anyway.

How do you monitor the messages you send to families? How do you avoid judgments of “good” or “bad?”

What else came to mind for you as you watched this video? 

Join the conversation by sharing your thoughts about the video and your reflections on your own practices in a comment below!

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