Human Growth & Development

Special Needs and Parents

It’s a difficult conversation to have.

One of the hardest conversations I’ve had to have with parents is suggesting their child might have special needs. When a child is not within the typical range for development, it’s important that we start the conversation. And the best place to start is to refer them to an early intervention program.

But what do we do when they aren’t receptive to the idea that something is “wrong” with their child? How do we help them understand that a diagnosis will allow their child to get the support they need from the schools and other organizations that support young children with developmental needs?

It’s frustrating for me to hear a parent in denial. “My child doesn’t act that way at home” – “It’s just a phase. I did this too when I was a child and I’m OK”.

Every child is perfect to their parents.

But I believe the most important thing in this communication is to take a step back and try to see things from the parents perspective. All of us want to believe our children are the smartest, most beautiful and most well-adjusted children on the planet. We love our children and want only the very best for them. Even parents that don’t raise their children the way we think they should are good and loving parents. And now you’re telling them their child is not perfect.

Be gentle.

The only way you will turn that parent’s thinking is with gentle persistence. Gentle. “I’m concerned with Johnny’s unsafe behavior” – “We need to schedule a time to talk about how we are going to support Johnny”. And keep going until they begin to understand. Suggest testing from an early intervention program to see if there is any kind of developmental issue they can address and help with. Once they are involved, sometimes suggesting a developmental pediatrician is a thought. Gently helping the parent understand that the best way to help their child is to recognize the need and move forward with support.

It’s a hard conversation. But it’s worth the effort in the end.

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