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 across services. 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 first meetings with disability professionals
Preparation will help you get the most out of your first meetings with disability professionals. Here are things you can do to get ready:
- When you call to make an appointment, find out what the meeting will involve. Will it be about the service generally or something more specific? Also ask about what the professional does.
- Ask what you should bring. Gather referral documents, reports and other records of 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 questions and topics that 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 – but let the professional know in advance that you’ll be bringing a support person.
Bringing children to first meetings with disability professionals
It’s a good idea to ask whether you should bring your child to the first meeting with a disability professional.
Many professionals will want you to bring your child to the first meeting. Others might want to speak to you first, and then meet your child at a second appointment.
If the professional has asked you to come by yourself 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 you might have to talk about things you don’t want your child to hear, ask whether you can meet or talk with the professional alone beforehand.
If the professional has asked you to bring your child but travelling to the meeting with your child will be difficult, let the professional know in advance. Perhaps you can arrange another way to meet, like a home visit or a telehealth appointment.
Meeting disability professionals face to face can give you a good sense of whether they’ll be able to meet your child’s needs. If you can’t meet in person, telehealth can be good too.
What to expect from disability professionals at first meetings
At the first meeting, you can expect a disability professional to:
- greet you, your child and anyone else who comes with you, tell you their name and explain 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
- tell you about the services they offer, including their goals and costs
- interact with your child in a sensitive and friendly way
- be sensitive, courteous, supportive, empathetic and respectful
- give you time to talk, listen attentively to you and show interest in your information and perspective
- discuss issues openly and explain things in ways that you can understand
- start setting up a genuine partnership to which you can both contribute.
Questions disability professionals might ask
Expect the disability professional to ask questions. These will depend on what the professional is helping you with and how much information they already have about you and your child.
The professional might ask you about:
- your child’s medical history
- your child’s development – for example, what milestones your child has reached
- your family life – for example, whether there are any areas of concern for your child
- other services you’re using for your child.
Should you expect written information?
Many services and professionals have brochures about what they do and how they work. Some will give you brochures about other services, handouts or online resources about your child’s disability, or possible treatments or tasks for you to try at home. For example, a speech pathologist might give you handouts with exercises to try at home between sessions.
Many parents find it useful to have a written copy of verbal information, especially for things like costs and confidentiality. It’s OK to ask for written information.
Asking about disability professionals’ qualifications and experience
Disability professionals 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 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 with disability professionals
When you leave the first meeting, it’s important that you understand:
- the issues you’ve talked about with the professional
- all the information the professional has given you
- the next steps to take
- the arrangement for the next meeting.
It’s OK to ask questions and repeat 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, remember that you’re speaking and listening for your child. With experience you’ll get better at this. Don’t agree to anything you feel uncomfortable with or don’t understand.
Make sure that you’ve had the chance to say and ask what you want. If you or your child feel like you aren’t being heard or your family’s needs aren’t being met, you can ask to meet with a different professional. It’s OK to meet with several different professionals within a service or to try different services.
After the first meeting
Soon after the first meeting with disability professionals, it’s a good idea to take the following steps:
- If you need a follow-up appointment, make it for soon afterwards so you can clarify information and ask more questions.
- Write down the questions that you want to ask at the next appointment.
- If you’ve received a new diagnosis for your child, ask for written information about it. It’s also a good idea to discuss a plan for telling your child about the diagnosis.
- Discuss new information or a new diagnosis with your child’s other parent. Think about who else you might need to tell.
You might be focused on your child’s wellbeing, but it’s important to look after yourself too. If you look after yourself, you’ll be in better shape to support your child. You might need time to process new information. Talking about how you’re feeling with family can help too.