Published on: 09 Feb 2016

Again and again pieces of case work have illustrated to me the way in which assumptions held by practitioners – often unconsciously so – can be a barrier to effective working with families around hard to spot children.

Working with families

Poppy Ionides, Educational Psychologist and Consultant

I was reminded of the skill and subtleties required for communication with families about hard to spot children a few days ago when talking with a mother whose child’s unusual behaviour in nursery was noticed and discussed with her.  Appropriate support was put in place at nursery. But the possibility of referral to investigate diagnostic labels was not raised by practitioners.  It had been assumed (wrongly, in this case) by practitioners that waiting for the family to ask about referral possibilities was the best way forward. 

Again and again pieces of case work have illustrated to me the way in which assumptions held by practitioners – often unconsciously so – can be a barrier to effective working with families around hard to spot children.  Keeping a series of questions in mind helps to uncover and challenge these assumptions.  For instance:

  • What are the hopes of the family?  Some families are keen to involve professionals from outside education, others are not; some families are keen for difficulties to be discussed and assigned a label, others are not; some families are deep in denial of the possibility of difficulties, others are not.
  • Does the child present in a similar way in different environments? Children’s presentation in a particular place is an interaction between the child and the place rather than being defined purely by characteristics of the child.  A child who is withdrawn and tearful within a classroom is not necessarily so at home.  Finding out how a child presents with the family gives rich strands of evidence to add to observations and assessments in non-home settings.
  • Even if the child presents similarly for you and home, do the family share your view of the situation?  Families view their children’s presentation through their own lens of culture and experience.  For example, behaviour that is typically framed in the UK in medical terms might be understood very differently within another culture (e.g. in some cultures, autism is viewed as punishment for a family’s previous sins); characteristics that can be problematic within a school context (e.g. lack of interest in literacy, assertion of individuality) may be considered to be no problem at all or may even be celebrated within the home.

By noticing and putting aside our assumptions when working with hard to spot children and their families we help to maximise the chance of positive outcomes for all.

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