We talk a lot about all the fun and good times that come along with being an SLP. We share stories about the creative activities we get to do and moments of success and growth. However, we know it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. There are dark, cloudy days. These are the days no one looks forward too, parent and SLP alike. Is there a way to make these moments better? Something to do that can take the sting out of it? Honestly, probably not, but there are some things we can do that can be helpful when these days come around. Here’s some advice on delivering tough news as an SLP.
We’ve all been there. Dreading the meeting that was about to happen. Not being able to look the parents fully in the eye because you know what you have to say. You’ve done your testing…probably a lot of testing, and it all pointed down the road you wished you didn’t have to go. Your testing, observations, interviews, etc all indicate a severe delay or disorder, maybe showing that the abilities of the child were not as developed as were originally thought or hoped to be. You know that the parents are waiting and hoping for you to tell them something good, that things aren’t as bad as they seem. That the road ahead will be straight and easy. You want so badly to be able to tell them that there are only a few things to work on or that things aren’t as bad as anyone thought, but you can’t. You know that no matter how wide a smile you put on your face, how pleasant you make your voice sound, you are about to deliver them a hard blow.
This is a part of the job that exists but we don’t like to talk about. No one likes to talk about unpleasant things. However, I think it is something that needs to be discussed. You’ve just confirmed a parents worst fear and/or completely rocked their world! You may show them graphs to help explain all the numbers and information. While that can be helpful, some parents may not fully hear what your saying. They are to busy thinking about their child. Now is the time to support the parents, but how.
*Sometime you need to take the professional hat off for a second, yes even in a meeting, and put the person cap on. Parents need to know that you are there to support not just their child but them. If they get upset in the meeting, let them. Sometimes people are not ready to hear that type of information until they have had a chance to deal with the initial shock of it all. I have had meetings that needed to be re-scheduled so parents could have time to calm down and return in a better emotional state. There is nothing wrong with it. Yes, we don’t want parents to leave with only have of the information but depending on their state, you may have to. Most parents will try and push through it to hear all of the information, but keep in mind that they may have questions for you later or need information repeated.
Keep It Legal
* Some parents may ask you for a diagnosis that you can’t give for legal reasons or otherwise. When it comes to testing, results, and data, sometimes as professionals we see it all align with particular disorder, but in the school setting at least, we are not allowed to diagnose anything outside of speech and language disorders. It should be noted that in some states, an SLP cannot formally diagnose apraxia, that may only be done by an MD. Don’t ask me why, but it’s the law. So what to do when mom or dad asks, ” Does my child have XX?”. Even though you may know the answer is yes, legally you may not be allowed to say it. You can say that the child shares similar characteristics and abilities with children who are diagnosed with XX, but you are simply their reporting about their abilities at this time. It is one of those sticky, gray areas I hate. You may want to tell them “Yes, you are right. Your child fits the criteria for XX.” You want to confirm for them they aren’t crazy, they haven’t been imagining things, but you can’t. This is a part where the professional hat needs to stay firmly on, no matter what you may want to say. Besides, no matter the diagnosis you are going to support the child in the areas you have identified, and that is what matters.
* Parents have just heard some upsetting, possibly devastating news. Let them know you have a plan! Let them know what you are going to work on and why, and what positives it will have for their child. Will this take the sting out of the news, no most likely not, but it can give them something else that is a bit more positive to focus on. If you have a lot of goals, maybe so many that you will have to keep some in the line up because there are some that need to addressed now and can’t wait, then make sure you explain that things will be targeted a bit at a time so the child can build their skills at their own pace.
Sometimes compiling information or handouts about the areas that the child in working on can be helpful, or letting them know that you will have things that they can do at home and feeling involved can help. Natalie Snyders has some really nice parent handouts and Jenna Rayburn as some fun ‘at home’ activity sheets for parents whose children are in preschool. Also, make sure that you give parents your contact information so that they can get a hold of you to go over information or ask questions. Most importantly, let them know you are on their team and are there to help their child grow.
*To any parents of children who may read this: We don’t want to ever have to give you this news, but it is our professional duty. It is also our duty to support your child and we do it willingly, day in and day out. We entered our field for your children and loved ones. We knew there would be days like these, but we also knew that even though these dark days may come around for your child, we will be there to support them, work with them, and challenge them to make sure that brighter days lay ahead.