Today Emma Pierce of Early Childhood Intervention Australia joins Amplify’s guest writers with a companion piece to Rebecca Thompson’s series on Inclusive Practice. Her story of Xavier will ring bells for many educators and directors, and her top tips for difficult parent meetings on child development are simple but well-tested. Next week Emma returns with an invitation for educators to reshape their view of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Xavier has been sitting on the mat lining up trucks and cars ever since he arrived this morning and now it is time to transition to lunch. You take a deep breath in anticipation, because lunch transition time always seems so hard. You go over to try to talk with him and he doesn’t respond at all. He doesn’t even seem to notice you are sitting right next to him. He hums while you say his name a few times, and tell him it is time to pack away.
You have heard him say words, but never to people, more just labelling the things around him. Just to see whether you can get his attention, you try moving one of the cars in the line. This goes down very badly. Xavier starts screaming, a shrill high-pitched scream, almost as though he is being physically hurt. The other children start to stare.
Xavier has been attending your centre for over a year, you feel you have a pretty good relationship with Xavier’s Mum. It just feels so hard to start up a conversation which involves raising concerns about her precious little boy, so every time you see her and she asks how his day has been, you find yourself saying something like: “pretty good”.
Doesn’t every parent imagine what their child’s life is going to look like and all the experiences they will have along the way? You really don’t want to be the one who smashes those hopes and dreams.
Educators bring so many strengths to identifying differences in children’s development
Xavier’s story might sound somewhat familiar. Perhaps you have had a niggling feeling for some time about the development of a child in your setting. You and other team members may have meticulously recorded your observations of a child’s responses to learning experiences, and noted differences in communication, behaviour, interactions, or mobility. Maybe, you have even attempted to casually mention concerns to parents in passing, without receiving the response you were hoping for. Regardless of how prepared you are, taking that next step of talking with the family, can be one of the toughest actions you take in your working life. It may also lead to one of the most meaningful career experiences.
Inclusion is about meaningful participation. Just being in a setting does not, however, mean that a child is able to access and benefit from all experiences in the same way as others. We know that children learn in the environments and from the people with whom they spend the most time, so if the key people in the child’s life can get assistance which enhances their skills in supporting the child, it follows that this is going to be the most effective way forward.
Educators are very well placed to recognise differences in development, and one reason for this is because of the sheer numbers of young children they work with. Learning about child development is part of early childhood education preservice training, although this has shifted somewhat in recent years.
Another huge strength educators have is their expertise in observing and documenting children’s learning and behaviour. When you collect this information over a period of time you will have clear examples to share with a family, and this can help the family to see that the concerns you raise haven’t merely been plucked from the air, but rather are based on professional observation and analysis. Your observations can also be very helpful to the family as they seek further assessment and support outside your service.
From the moment that families approach an early childhood service to enrol their child, you start to build trusting relationships with families. When the relationship has a strong foundation, it can smooth the way somewhat for more tricky conversations.
When concerns are raised about their child, families may not respond in the way you would expect them to: disbelief, anger, grief, blame, and denial are just some of what they may express. Don’t take the negatives as a refusal to act. It is possible for a family to still be taking action to support a child’s development while still not completely accepting a diagnosis. Early childhood educators can play a crucial supportive role in these early days of families learning about differences in their child’s development and adapting to these differences.
Five tips for raising developmental concerns with families
Think about the relationship you have with the family and the timing of big conversations.
Ask the family to set up a time to talk with them and ask if the parent would like to bring their partner or a friend along.
When you meet, ask the family what they have noticed about their child’s development in a particular area and you may share one or two of your observations.
Provide just enough information and options for next steps the family can take.
Don’t end the meeting without planning a next meeting with the family.
An enormous difference can be made to a child and their family when all involved start learning more about a child’s strengths and needs as early as possible. As educators, we have the potential to support a family to seek assessment and support which can not only enhance their child’s development, but help the family to take action in a way which supports their adjustment and adaptation.
So what happened with Xavier’s family?
Here’s what Xavier’s Mum, Luana, said looking back to when concerns were first raised:
“It was really hard when [the teacher] Jan first said she wanted to talk to me about Xavier’s development. My heart sank a little bit, as I had a feeling that he was different to other kids, but when this was mentioned by someone else, it became more real. I am so glad that Jan did, though, because she told us where we could get him assessed and access great help and he is making so much progress as a result.”
Things are changing dramatically with the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
In Emma’s next blog she discusses how these changes relate to you as educators and your role in connecting families with early childhood intervention.
Meet the author
Emma Pierce is currently employed as inclusion coordinator at early Childhood Intervention Australia (NSW/ACT). Emma trained as a special education teacher and has worked with children with disabilities and their families for the last 19 years in the UK and NSW, primarily in the area of early childhood intervention. Emma developed ECIA NSW/ACT’s Working Together Agreement in consultation with a range of stakeholders and was the main author of ECIA NSW/ACT’s Transition to School Resource (2014). She has developed and facilitated training with parents, carers and professionals across NSW and has also co-authored a number of other practical resources for professionals and families. Emma is also a sessional academic at Western Sydney University and was previously the manager of Early Intervention at Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect).
Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.