Thursday, April 12, 2012

Through the Looking Glass: Tips from The Mommy Pyschologist

I’m not your average child psychologist. In fact, I’m surprised they’ve let me stay in the club this long. One of the primary differences between me and other professionals is that I don’t see myself as being more knowledgeable than the parents with whom I work. I don’t view myself as being an expert on autism or other pervasive developmental disabilities even though I have all of the fancy initials behind my name and advanced training in neurodevelopmental disabilities. When it comes to knowing how to raise a child with autism, parents are the real experts.

Parents of children with autism have to deal with experts all the time. The list of areas of specialization when it comes to children with special needs is endless. If you have a child with autism, you are going to spend a significant amount of time dealing with professionals. And let’s face it, sometimes professionals are really difficult to deal with. Is there any way to make these professional relationships easier?

I think there is. There’s only so much you can learn from a textbook. I had a crash course in this when I went from a student to a practicing clinician. Theory on paper and theory in practice were two entirely different entities.  However, when you learn how to put the two together in a delicate balancing act, amazing results can happen. The key is finding a way to marry theory with practice. This is the difficult task of any relationship between parent and professional.

As an insider into the professional side of things, I thought I would provide a few tips to assist in making these relationships a bit easier and a bit more effective.

Find the Middle

Let me explain what I mean by this. It’s been my experience that parents tend to be divided into two groups: Yay-sayers and Nay-sayers.

Yay-sayers are parents who tend to agree with everything that the professional says or recommends. Yay-sayers support the professional always even if they might disagree or have other ideas because they don’t trust themselves as being experts in their child’s care.
Nay-sayers are on the other side of the spectrum. These are parents who tend to disagree with everything that that professional says or recommends. Yay-sayers do not support the professional’s ideas because they don’t trust the professionals as being experts in their child’s care.

Neither of these extremes is surprising given how difficult it can be to work together and previous bad experiences. In the instance of the Yay-sayers, they’ve been tricked into thinking that they don’t know what’s best for their child and someone else does. In the instance of the Nay-sayers, they’ve been failed by professionals who were supposed to have their child’s best interests in mind.

I encourage parents to find the middle ground. To acknowledge whatever side of the spectrum they fall on and to take small steps towards the middle. To find a way to balance their own ideas and expertise in working with their children with the professionals ideas and expertise in working with their child.

For the Yay-sayers, the trick is to find their voice and to begin to trust their instincts when it comes to their child. Don’t be afraid to disagree. For the Nay-sayers, the trick is to try to identify areas where the professional may be helpful and to focus on those areas. Don’t be afraid to give their suggestions a try.

Form a Therapeutic Alliance

One of the very first things I tell parents is: “You know your child better than I do.”

I don’t just say this because it sounds good. I say it because I mean it. Unfortunately, not all professionals feel this way and I’m sure many of you have experienced this. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t still form a therapeutic alliance. It just means you have to work much harder at it. The good news is that I have seen such powerful work take place when the parents and professionals are able to work together as a team.

You used to be able to have a choice in selecting who you worked with. Unfortunately, restrictions imposed by insurance companies and other financial limitations make it really difficult to shop around for a compatible professional to work with. It used to be much easier to be able to go therapist shopping. If you’re stuck without any other options, try to work with what you have. Find the strengths in what the professional has to offer no matter how small they might be.

 Always Check Credentials

This may seem like a no-brainer to some, but you would be surprised at how many professionals misrepresent themselves. It’s important to be aware that just because a professional is trained in child psychology does not necessarily mean that they’ve been trained to work with children with autism.

I’m sure you do, but just in case you don’t, be sure to ask for license or registration numbers for anyone working with your children. You want to make sure that there is a medical board of some sort that is governing their behavior.

I hope these help. And if a professional has never told you, I’m telling you now- you are the expert when it comes to taking care of your child.

The Mommy Psychologist is a child psychologist who thought she had all the answers to parenting until she became one herself. She’s a psychologist, freelance writer, and mother of a spirited three year old boy, Gus. If she’s not running around after Gus, you can find her running through the streets of Los Angeles prepping for her next marathon.

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AutismWonderland - written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez - is a personal blog chronicling a NYC family's journey with autism, while also sharing local resources for children/families with special needs.