By Raising Children Network
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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 disability 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.

About first meetings with disability professionals

In your first meeting with a disability professional, you’ll probably talk about whether the service is right for you and your child.

Sometimes this might involve a detailed assessment of your child’s situation. You might need to give the professional reports from your doctor or other specialists as well as detailed information about your child and your family.

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.

Preparing for meetings with disability professionals

Some preparation beforehand will help you get the most out of your first meeting with disability professionals. Here are some things you can do to get ready:

  • 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 talking about something more specific? Also ask about what the professional does.
  • Ask what you should bring. Gather referral documents, reports and any other records you have about your child’s medical history, development, feeding, sleeping or behaviour. If you have articles or other information that you’d like to talk about, bring these too.
  • Make a list of your questions and what you want to cover in the meeting so you don’t forget anything.
  • Take along a note pad so that you can write down important points – for example, suggestions the professional might make, and things that you need to do after the meeting. 
  • Give yourself plenty of time to get to the meeting so that you’re not flustered or rushed when the meeting begins.
  • Take someone with you – just let the professional know in advance.

Bringing your child to the meeting
It’s a good idea to ask whether you should bring your child to the first meeting with a disability professional.

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 you can find another way to meet, like 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.

What to expect from disability professionals at the first meeting

At the first meeting, you can expect disability professionals to:

  • greet you, your child and anyone else who comes with you, tell you their names and about the kind of work they do
  • tell you how long the meeting will take, talk about what the meeting is for, and check that you’re happy with the plans for the meeting
  • give you time to talk, listen attentively to your concerns and show interest in the information and perspectives you provide 
  • be sensitive to your needs and show empathy
  • be courteous and supportive and respect your values and beliefs
  • start setting up a genuine partnership where you both have a role to play and an important contribution to make
  • discuss issues openly, and explain things in ways that you can understand.

Questions disability professionals might ask
Expect professionals to ask questions. These will depend on what the professionals are helping you with and how much information they already have about you and your child.

Professionals might ask you about:

  • 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 might 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

Disability workers must have relevant skills and competencies based on formal qualifications. It’s OK to ask about the background, experience and qualifications of the people you’re working with.

Here are some questions you could ask:

  • 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 first meeting

When you leave the first meeting, it’s really important that you:

  • are clear about what you’ve talked about with the professional
  • understand all the information the professional has given you
  • know the next steps to take and when the next meeting is.

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 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.

After the first meeting

Soon after the first meeting with disability professionals, it’s a good idea to take the following steps:

  • Make a follow-up appointment soon afterwards so you can clarify the information given and ask more questions.
  • Write down the questions that you want to ask at the next appointment.
  • If there’s a new diagnosis, discuss a plan for telling your child about the diagnosis.
  • Ask for written information about the diagnosis.