Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How Not to Ask About My Child's Progress

Today we had an appointment with Julia's eye doctor whom we haven't seen in over a year.

I was excited to update her on all the positive changes and developments that have occurred since we last saw her.  It really has been such a great year for Jules.

"What's changed?" she asked and I began to tell her that since we switched medication a year ago the biggest positive side effect has been in Julia's sensory tolerance - she can handle so much more sensory input than before - she seems more comfortable in her own skin and that has opened up a ton of new opportunities for her!

The conversation went on:

Doctor: So tell me about her fine motor development.

Me: (with a big smile on my face) Well, she is touching so many more things than she used to, she will pick up small things with her fingers and she will let her hands touch a variety of textures that used to really bother her.

Doctor: Is she cutting?

Me: Cutting??    (I'm thinking to myself what is cutting?  I work in the mental health field so all I could think of was self-harming. Is she asking if Julia is self-harming?)

Doctor: Yes, cutting. Is she holding scissors and cutting paper on her own?

Me: Ummmm no. No, she's not doing anything like that. (Now I'm thinking to myself what in the world?? Where did cutting paper come from? Did you not hear anything I was just saying to you about what she is doing? Self-harming was a more realistic question than holding scissors and cutting paper.)   

Doctor: Oh, well is she holding markers or crayons and coloring?

(At this point I'm pretty sure my smiley face which had recently turned to a confused face now became a defeated face and my feelings of excitement started feeling more like embarrassment, had I oversold Julia's progress?)

Me: No, she's not holding markers and coloring, she doesn't really do anything like that. I guess when I said she was doing great I just meant for her - not, I guess, what you are thinking of.

(I felt like crying.)

Doctor: Oh I know that, I just needed to get a sense of what you meant by 'doing better.'

Me:  Nod my head. (But I was thinking there are about a hundred other ways to find out what I meant by 'doing better' that wouldn't involve making my positive update feel more like a disappointment.)


I realize this is not a huge deal, so for those of you already formulating your critique of me and my over-sensitivity, I'll save you the time - I get it, it is not the end of the world that Julia's doctor asked me questions in this way. It's just a little thing - but still a little thing that kind of stung. And sometimes we need to talk about little things. I left that appointment thinking there really does need to be a certain level of awareness and sensitivity when working with kids who have developmental delays and their parents. Their achievements and accomplishments look SO different than typical development, they can seem tiny in comparison to regular milestones, they can get lost in the land of normal - but for the kids and those of us who love them they are monumental, ginormous, incredible, amazing!!!! And so when asking about our kid's progress, I believe there are simple ways to do it that allows the provider to get the information he or she needs without making the parent or kid feel like they are a disappointment or their achievements aren't a big deal.

Instead of asking:
Is she doing _____?

What kinds of things is she doing?
What new things is she doing?
What does she like to do/play with/touch these days?

Questions can be specific to a body part (hands, fingers, eyes, etc...) or a therapeutic skill set (OT, PT, SLP) - but should NOT be specific to an actual activity or task (cutting, drawing, running, talking...). And open ended questions are almost always preferable to closed / yes or no questions. When you ask open ended questions we as parents get to compliment and brag on our child's accomplishments rather than giving attention to tasks currently beyond their ability. And even more importantly, if the child understands the conversation going on around them, questions asked in this way give him or her the opportunity to hear people talking about what he or she IS doing, not about what he or she is NOT doing.  I know which conversation I would prefer to hear.

It's a little thing, I know, but it does make a difference, and if there is one thing I've learned from being Julia's mom it's that little things matter quite a lot.

I'm so stinking proud of Julia and her amazing accomplishments - let's talk about those things!!!