Keeping The Essence of Your Child (and Yourself) : April 2010

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Evaluations :
Keeping The Essence of Your Child (and Yourself)
During Assessments

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the amazing mothers who read this newsletter!

Amazing is truly an understatement.

I applaud you and am offering something just for you at the end of this newsletter. Don’t omit reading this month’s topic though as you race to the end 🙂

In this issue, I want to tackle this whole business of evaluations or assessments, depending on which word you prefer. I will be using both words interchangeably throughout.

Assessments are on my heart now as our son Alejandro is due to be re-evaluated again in a couple of  months to assess his overall progress thus far and his preschool educational  classroom placement for the upcoming school year . He’s 3 1/2!! – shouldn’t he just be playing instead of being assessed?

I find myself getting both a bit nervous and defensive at the prospect of yet another set of people looking at/observing him, writing notes on their little pads, categorizing him as this or that and then making their recommendations. As with many things, I thought about you, my readers who are also parents of special kids, and wondered whether you feel/have felt a similar way.

From very early on (either at birth or on the day of their diagnosis), our children have been assessed. Some of these assessments resulted in a good outcome no doubt, while other times you’ve probably felt that the outcome of it all was, well questionable. I vividly remember two times out of the hundreds of times  Alejandro has been assessed – so far – where I have questioned the validity and/or benefit of both the evaluation and the evaluator.

The 1st time, Alejandro wasn’t even born yet but my waters had broken (23 weeks + 6 days) and one of the hospital doctors came in, quickly looked at me/the monitors and then promptly proceeded to turn off all of the monitors. She had ‘assessed’ Alejandro and had deemed  that he wasn’t viable, so told us bluntly, ‘he’s too early, there is no way he is going to survive, so what’s the point?’ We were numb with shock! You’ve probably had those moments too when someone does or says something to you that is so insulting, ignorant, etc that you really can’t quite believe it has happened. Well that was us, staring at her and the monitors in disbelief for seemingly several minutes (in truth, it was only a few seconds) before another doctor came in and quickly turned all of the monitors back on.

The second time was last year when Alejandro was undergoing his 1st IQ assessment (which apparentlly must be done when a child is turning 3 years old and leaving the early intervention (EI) program). The psychologist came to our home and after speaking with us and asking a few questions, he proceeded to ‘assess’ Alejandro. We told him that Alejandro is legally blind and, among other things, that a) he couldn’t see things once they passed below his nose, b) all objects presented to him needed to be high contrast (i.e. dark objects against a white background), and c)  all objects needed to be presented within 2 inches of his face. Despite this useful infomation, the psychologist proceeded to place all of his minimal-contrast testing objects on a low table way outside of Alejandro’s limited visual field and asked him to stack them, read them, etc. What??? Read them?? You are asking a 2 1/2  yr old who is just starting to be exposed to Braille to read and stack something he couldn’t even see nor knew that it was in front of him (as the verbal cues from the psychologist were lacking). He finished early and said that he couldn’t finish assessing Alejandro “due to his limited vision”. Are you kidding me???

We asked, how could that test even remotely be fair  to Alejandro’s cognitive abililities as it was so vision-oriented and not adapted for a child with severe visual impairments. Our concern was that he would be graded down cognitively for deficits that were related to his vision, not his cognition. The psychologist agreed with us but said that that was just the way it was!!! Aaarrgh!!!!

In both of these instances, the person during the assessing as well as the assessment itself were, in my opinion, flawed. The main reason being, that the child, in our case Alejandro, was really not at the heart of the evaluation and seen for who he was/is as a person, but rather had been assigned to some category (i.e. extreme preemie, blind child, etc) which came with its own set of assumptions and innuendos. In my work, I’ve come across many wonderful parents who have felt/are feeling that their child is/has been ‘lost’ in a sea of assessments….and that a bit of themselves as parents has been lost too.

This caused me to wonder about two things:
How can we as parents ensure that the essence of our child is seen while they are being assessed?
How can our own essence as a parent be preserved as well?
I would like to offer 3 things for you to consider towards helping you do just that.

1) Know Your Child, Know Yourself – Sounds like a cliche, but there is something to it. When you know someone, you understand them and are so in tune with them, that you really don’t have to think too much about what they can/will do. You often know why they do/say something and are able to very quickly discern what is happening within any given situation. In the same way, no one knows your child like you do. You have probably heard this before too but it is such a true statement and can provide such power to you as a parent.

During evaluations, I encourage you to try to use the ‘internal knowingness’ you have of your child to inform the evaluator. Don’t just tell them, but insist on them incorporating your knowledge about your child, into their evaluations, as this is only fair and reasonable. I should have done this with the psychologist I mentioned earlier but it is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way.

2) Assessments Are a Snapshot, You Provide the Whole Picture – Have you ever taken a picture and zoomed or cropped it to have only what you want in it? Well, in many ways, evaluators are doing the same thing during their assessments – taking in the parts they need and cropping away the rest they feel they don’t need. Many assessments typically last  for, what? – 30 minutes to 1 hour? A mere snapshot, that depending on what kind of day your child is having, the  outcome could be comparable to either  the perfect pose or the mug shot on your driver’s license and/or ID. I am convinced that the latter is a conspiracy designed to take the worst possible picture ever of anyone who dares to sit in front of its camera! – ha. Seriously though, even if evaluators saw your child for the full hour, they will still come away with, at best, a cropped picture of them.

As parents, you see your child for most of the remaining approximately 15 (if they are in school) to 23hours – uncropped! Use this perspective to your child’s advantage by filling in the gaps. Help the evaluator to see this uncropped version by highlighting your child’s strengths – what they can do and how they can do it. This is very useful because remember that a lot of evaluators are coming from the angle of deficits – what your child can’t do/is having trouble with, etc.

One creative way of doing this is to make an ‘All About Me’ book for your child. Include in it pictures and notes about your child focusing on what they can do and what certain behaviors, etc may mean. This book can be especially useful if your child is nonverbal and/or have difficulty communicating their needs/wants. It gives evaluators or anyone who will be working with your child a much more positive baseline and picture of your child’s interests and abilities.

3)  – Make the End Result Count for You (Your Child) – I don’t mean this in a manipulative way – but rather in an empowering one. I am suggesting that you look at assessments and their subsequent outcomes as opportunities in which your child will benefit. For example, what is labeled as areas of developmental and educational deficits for your child, can also be areas of immense gain for them as well because they will potentially qualify for and  receive more services and support, as appropriate.

Now, this is where I put my BIG advocacy hat on, because in order for this point to be even remotely successful, as parents, you must know and understand what is being written about your child. Be informed – read your child’s medical and/or educational report(s). If it doesn’t make sense to you, ask the evaluator to explain it to you (several times, if need be) – and in plain language, not their assessment jargon. It is also important that you know your rights as a parent, and use them in a reasonable and assertive way. Whether your child is an infant, toddler or teenager, it is key that they are in a supportive environment (i.e. whether at home, in the hospital or in school) and that they receive the proper type and level of intervention in which they can soar.  View assessments as a way of achieving this for your child.

I hope these 3 suggestions help you to keep the essence of your child and you alive, intact and in full view during any assessment!!

Now to my Mother’s Day Special:

A Complimentary 30 minute 1:1  Coaching Session with me!
Valid until midnight 31st May 2010.

It is a great (and fun) opportunity for you to have some ‘you’ time to focus/re-focus on what you want as a person and to start moving in that direction.

Contact Me Here or more information and/or to schedule a time.

Looking forward to speaking with some fantastic mothers!!

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