Your first meeting with a professional in the field of children’s disability might be about choosing a service that’s right for you and your child. Or it might be with a professional you’ve already chosen to work with. Either way, you’ll want to come out of it satisfied with the results and clear about what’s going to happen next.
What will the first meeting be like?
The answer depends on the professional and her role. But it’s likely to include discussion about whether the service is suitable for you and your child.
Sometimes this might require a detailed assessment of your child’s situation. You might need to provide reports from your doctor or other specialists and give detailed information about your child and your family.
‘I've already provided this information!’
When you’re involved with several professionals or services, you might feel like you’re answering the same questions and giving the same information over and over. This is because of privacy regulations and confidentiality, which limit the information that can be shared between services. Even though it might be tedious, each professional needs to have a full and accurate picture of you and your child, and you’re the best person to provide this.
A bit of preparation beforehand will help you get the most out of your first meeting.
- When you call to make an appointment, try to find out exactly what the meeting will involve. Will it be about what the service generally offers, or will you be discussing something more specific?
Take referral documents, reports and any other records you have about your child’s medical history, development, feeding, sleeping or behaviour. Bring along any articles about particular therapies or your child’s condition that you want to discuss. Ask whether there’s anything else you should bring.
Ask whether you should bring your child. Most professionals will want you to bring your child to the first meeting. Others might want to speak to you first, then meet your child at a second appointment. If you think either way will be difficult, let the professional know in advance. Perhaps another way to meet can be found, such as a home visit. If the professional has asked you to come without your child, but you can’t find a carer or babysitter, let the professional know before the meeting that you’ll have your child with you.
- If you think that during a meeting you might have to talk about things you don’t want your child to hear, ask if you can see the professional alone before the meeting.
Find out as much as you can about what the professional does.
Make a list of your questions and what you hope will be covered in the meeting so you don’t forget anything.
Take along a note pad so that you can write down notes if you want to.
Give yourself plenty of time to get to the meeting so that you aren’t flustered or rushed when the meeting begins.
Take someone with you – just let the professional know in advance.
What can I expect from the professional at the first meeting?
At the first meeting, you might expect the professional to:
- greet you, your child and anyone else who comes with you
- tell you his name, the kind of work he does and how he does it
- tell you how long the meeting will take
- discuss the purpose of the meeting and seek agreement from you about what’s planned
- give you time to talk
- listen attentively to your concerns
- show interest in the information and perspectives you provide
- be sensitive to your needs
- be courteous, supportive and respectful
- show empathy
- respect your values and beliefs
- begin establishing a collaborative relationship (that is, a genuine partnership where both of you have a role to play and an important contribution to make)
- give information and explain things in ways that you can understand
- discuss issues openly.
What kinds of questions might the professional ask me?
Expect the professional to ask questions. These will depend on what areas the professional is helping you with and how much information has been provided before the meeting. Some likely topics are:
- your child’s development – for example, what milestones your child has reached
- how you and your family are coping
- your family and family life in general, to find out whether there are any areas of concern that might present risks for your child
- other services you’re using for your child.
Should I expect written information?
Many services and professionals will have brochures about what they do and how they work. Some will give you brochures about other services, handouts about your child’s disability, or possible treatments or tasks for you at home. For example, a speech pathologist may give you handouts about exercises to try at home between sessions.
Many parents find it useful to have verbal information backed up with the same information in writing. You can always ask for written information.
Asking about qualifications and experience
People employed to deliver services to people with disability must have relevant skills and competencies based on formal qualifications. Don’t hesitate to ask for information about the professional’s background and experience, including qualifications.
Questions you might want to ask include:
- What are your professional qualifications?
- Have you completed any further study since becoming qualified?
- Have you met the registration requirements for your profession?
- Are you in any professional associations and interest groups?
- How many years of experience have you had in this or related fields?
- How many children have you worked with who have the same condition as my child, or a similar condition?
At the end of the meeting
When you leave the first meeting, it’s really important you’re clear about what has been discussed, that you understand the information given, and know the next steps to take. Be up front about asking questions and repeating things back to the professional to make sure you’ve understood correctly. Feel free to ask for further explanations in words you can understand.
Make sure the professional is taking your needs and those of your family into account. If you’re worried you’re being pushy, just think that you’re speaking for and listening for your child – with experience you’ll get better and better at it. Don’t agree to anything you feel uncomfortable with or don’t understand.
Make sure that in the meeting you have the chance to say what you want to say and ask what you want to ask.
Tips at the end of the first meeting
- Make a follow-up appointment soon afterwards so you can clarify the information given and ask more questions.
- If there’s a new diagnosis, discuss a plan for telling your child about the diagnosis.
- Ask for written information about the diagnosis.