Posted on January 21, 2014
Last week I had one of the most humbling parental consultations I have ever experienced. Daniel is a young person with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), who attends college. I had previously met with his carer to gain informed consent for involvement but wanted very much to meet with his mother, with whom he lives, before beginning any individual work. Having been informed that his mother had multiple sclerosis I was invited to the home to carry out a parental consultation.
Two carers greeted me at the door – one who supported Daniel and the other who supported his mother. I entered the home and was ushered up a small flight of stairs to the mother’s bedroom – Kate – who was in bed, lying next to a beautifully ornate mirror with a small television on the opposite wall. She spoke quietly to indicate a chair on which I could sit.
“You’re so beautiful!” she exclaimed, through hesitant breaths. I was taken aback. This wasn’t how most parental consultations began. She paused to watch me sit down. Then said, “Your skin – it’s flawless.” Again, I hesitated and wondered where this all fit into the problem analysis framework, before deciding to put down my consultation form and be fully ‘present’ to hear her words.
Honestly, I was embarrassed. Like many people I find it difficult to take a compliment at the best of times, but here I was faced with a parent who clearly had many physical challenges within her life, paying me a compliment before even knowing why I was there. I thanked her and named my embarrassment. She laughed. I introduced myself and explained why I had come.
We chatted for about an hour. Yes, I say chatted because that’s how it felt. She spoke about her journey – the time as a parent before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and the impact this degenerative condition had made to her view of herself as a parent. It most definitely was a consultation: I was able to capture her beliefs about her son’s capacity to learn, her best hopes and wishes for his learning journey (very solution focused) and together we generated some solutions to the provision of appropriate learning opportunities in class.
What transpired through this vital visit was a revelation to me. Most probably because of inaccurate information held on a college file about her disability, until now Kate had been overlooked during the planning for her child’s tertiary education. As a professional who lectures on equality and diversity I was disappointed that this could have occurred three years after the passing of the 2010 Equality Act. I felt humbled by our conversation and her narrative of being a dedicated, devoted, yet severely physically disabled parent who lived for her children and wanted only the best for them. Her best hopes for Daniel were encouraging, yet realistic and held a level of sensitivity that only a parent can convey. This mother, who no one at the college had previously taken the time to meet, through my intervention had been able to contribute to the assessment of her son’s needs.
And then I understood the reason for her initial compliment. Kate, in some ways like her son, despite having very different areas of difficulty, had a unique ability to tune into the detail of the tapestry of life. She was able to notice things that other people often take for granted and overlook as insignificant, fully appreciative of aesthetics, symmetry and order. Her journey had forced her to see the glimmers of hope in an overwhelmingly gloomy situation, and I believe it is this attitude which led to her appreciation for my visit, rather than annoyance that it had taken so long for her to be consulted by anyone prior. It was a privilege to have met Kate, and I look forward to consulting with her again to feedback my work with her son.
I’d love to hear any comments or thoughts about parental consultation, particularly with parents who may not be easily contactable. Have you had a similar experience in meeting with parents? Or are you a parent who feels an educational professional really listened to what you had to say? How can educational psychologists ensure they get it right when consulting with parents and professionals? Please share your thoughts and comments below….
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Stacy Moore is a community-focused educational psychologist and founder of Inner Circles Educational Psychology. She works with a dynamic and creative team of associate educational psychologists to deliver high quality consultation, assessment and training for education settings in and around London. She is a professional doctoral research student at University College London and contributes to the equality and diversity module of the doctoral programme at the Institute of Education.