As a mum of special needs children, I have had numerous meetings with professionals over the years. Not all of those meetings were successful, particularly in the early days, and I learnt the hard way how best to work with them. As a result I have put together these tips which I hope will help those of you navigating the special needs jungle to develop a positive working relationship with professionals.
1. Preparation – try and find out what the meeting is about, who will be in attendance and who is leading the meeting. Think about what questions you want answered. Write them down and take the list with you to the meeting so that you can refer to it; it is easy to forget what you want to say when you are at the meeting. As you get answers to your questions, write them down as you may not remember them later.
2. Support – consider taking someone with you, a partner, friend or someone from an independent organisation that can offer emotional and practical support. It is also worth considering how you and your support want to work together. There can be lots of information and action points that emerge from a meeting; it may be that one of you writes the notes whilst the other does the talking.
3. Stay informed – whilst professionals are experts in their profession YOU are the expert on your child. You know your child more than anyone else. Nevertheless please try and learn about the issues affecting you as a parent and your child. Remember, knowledge can be powerful and by sharing your understanding of your child, you are becoming the best advocate for your child.
4. Communication – it sounds obvious I know, but try and avoid angry outbursts. Professionals are more likely to treat you as an equal partner when you express yourself in a calm and polite manner. However, it is perfectly understandable if you become upset or disagree with something as this is your child that is being talked about. If you do disagree with something then say so but try and stay calm and in that way you will find you are treated with a lot more respect. If you do feel as if you may lose control of your emotions, then ask for a break or consider rearranging the meeting.
5. Teamwork – try and see yourself as part of a team rather than in opposition to the professionals. Remember, by sharing knowledge you have a greater chance of reaching an amicable decision about how to progress forward with your child.
6. Ask – if you don’t understand any terminology, then don’t feel embarrassed to ask for clarification. You have a right to understand what is going on. Similarly if you don’t understand why a particular recommendation has been proposed ask for an explanation. Don’t feel pressured into agreeing to a recommendation straightaway; if you need further time to think things over at home, then ask for more time. Alternatively if you need a further meeting to discuss things, then ask for it. It is important that you have a clear understanding of all the information. If you don’t agree with a recommendation then say so. Remember, you know your child best and if you don’t think something will work for them then say so and explain why.
7. Praise – where professionals do something good praise them. They need to know when they are doing something right and a thank you or acknowledgement of something that has gone well can really help foster a good working relationship. Remember, you may be working with these professionals for a long time and if you develop a good working relationship, then you will find it easier to raise issues that are not going so well.
8. Finally, if there are any conflicts then please try and find a resolution with the professional. If you can’t find a way forward then discuss your problems with someone more senior. It may be that you can switch to working with someone else. If you are unable to find any satisfaction with the service generally then consider seeking independent advice.