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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 2, Lesson 3

Providing Information to Caregivers

Studies have shown that parents of children with disabilities report a strong need for information (Hartshorne, 2002). Many parents want to learn all about their child's disability. They want to know medical, psychological, developmental and nutritional issues. They want to know how to help their child and what to expect in the future. As an Infant Toddler Developmental Specialist (ITDS) you can play an important role in 1) providing information and 2) helping parents access information in libraries and on the internet.

When you provide information, it is helpful to do so in a clear and concise manner, and to repeat the information several times if necessary (DeMarle & le Roux, 2001). When caregivers are first learning about their child's disability, they often become confused, overwhelmed and anxious. In such a state, it is difficult to attend to information. That is why clarity and repetition are so very important.

It is important to ask the family member if they fully understand their role or have questions.

Another helpful strategy involves asking caregivers to paraphrase what you have said. By asking caregivers to paraphrase, you can be certain that your message is accurately understood. Misunderstandings can be quickly corrected. For example, you might ask a family member to paraphrase back points you are making regarding their involvement in a certain activity (e.g., promoting language development during bath time routines, completing an activity matrix which you and the parent have developed together). Paraphrasing helps confirm that family members understand that you are there to help and support them in their important role on the Early Steps team. Research indicates that people are more likely to retain information when they are asked to paraphrase.

Whenever possible, information should be provided both orally and in writing (DeMarle & le Roux, 2001). Medical information and results from developmental evaluations are hard to digest all at once. It helps to have a written summary to refer to later. A written list of resources (classes, support groups, services) is also helpful. Caregivers can then decide if and when they are ready to utilize these resources.

Researchers caution against overwhelming the family with too many facts and details in the early stages of learning about the disability (DeMarle & le Roux, 2001). If you provide too much detail too soon, confusion and anxiety may result. The caregiver may not be prepared to 'take in' so much information all at once. It is better to provide only the most important information first. Other, less pressing issues can be addressed in future meetings and conferences.

Culturally Sensitive Communication

When working with your team, it is important to be aware of cultural differences. In the previous discussion of non-verbal behavior, we saw that the same gesture (a handshake or eye-contact) can have different meanings to different people. It is therefore important for all of us to learn as much as we can about different cultures and traditions.

When working with someone from a different culture, approach that person as an individual. Avoid stereotyping. Do not draw conclusions about a person based on their appearance or their language. People vary tremendously in terms of their identification with their culture. Some people closely adhere to the traditions of their culture, while others do not. Recognize that most people have been influenced by more than one culture, and that levels of acculturation vary from person to person.

One of the most common barriers to communication among team members is the language barrier. Finding an appropriate translator is sometimes very challenging. In the absence of an appropriate professional, older children are sometimes asked to serve as translators. This practice should be avoided if possible as it tends to create role confusion and result in miscommunication.

Even with an appropriate professional translator, important nuances and subtleties in communication can be lost. Early intervention providers must therefore make an extra effort to dialogue with the translator in order to understand the caregiver's (or other team member's) meaning.

Several websites have been created to address the issues involved in cultural competence and culturally sensitive communication. These websites are listed in the Reference section at the end of this Lesson.

Take a few minutes now to read Working with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Families. When reading this article, pay particular attention to the "Strategies for Working Together in Early Education."

Questions from this article may appear on the self-assessment and/or final evaluation.


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