Physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists. The list goes on. As a parent of a child with special needs, chances are you interact with at least one therapist on a regular basis. More likely, there are multiple therapists in and out of your home each week. To get the best care for your child, it’s important to have a good relationship with your child’s therapist. Consider him or her a dance partner. The better your rapport, the more successfully you’re able to waltz through therapy and help your child reach his or her goals. Southlake mom Bridget Randolph, whose 17-year-old daughter has spina bifida, puts it as a simple formula: “Having rapport equals teamwork equals success for your child, which equals a happy child.”
We talked to local therapists and parents, all well-versed in the therapy tango, to get their tips for getting the most out of the parent-therapist dance.
1. Mind Your Manners
2. Tell All
Fill your child’s therapist in on your family history and lifestyle. It’s more important than you might think. “The more information that I have about the family and their interests and support system, the better able I am to develop a successful treatment plan for the child,” offers Kelley Meehan, physical therapist and owner of Meehan Sports Therapy and Pediatrics in Southlake.
MaryPat Bragers, an occupational therapist at Plano Therapeutic Services, encourages the parents she interacts with to keep her in the loop on changes in the child’s treatment plan, however small. “It’s beneficial for parents to make me aware whenever their child starts a new medication, treatment or other therapy,” she counsels. “Even a dietary change is important, as it may affect the child’s behavior.”
3. Put a Plan in Place
Verbal communication at your child’s appointment is usually the fastest and easiest way to share information. If you need to communicate between therapy sessions, the experts suggest you find out if the therapist prefers email, text or phone calls. Some therapists are even willing to write or email updates on your child that can be shared with other therapists.
4. Be Honest
It’s important to be open and honest with the therapist. Some parents might be concerned that they’ll look unintelligent if they admit they aren’t following the conversation. If you don’t understand, just say so. Ask questions until you are comfortable. “It takes trust to have rapport with a therapist,” advises Randolph. “Trust means cooperation and asking lots of questions.”
5. Sandwich Negative Feedback
If you have concerns to voice, do so. But try to make a theoretical sandwich with your words by providing positive comments before and after the critique. You might say, “You always give my child your full attention when you work with him, but I’m concerned that we usually have to wait 30 minutes after our scheduled time to start therapy. Is there something that can be done with the schedule? Thanks for being such a great listener.” Sandwiching helps balance the negative feedback so the therapist doesn’t feel as harshly criticized.
6. Jot It Down
Some therapists give written updates on a regular basis. If yours doesn’t, take notes on progress, new treatments or concerns the therapist has. Use a notebook or your cellphone to record the information — whatever is easiest for you. This will save you (and the therapist) valuable time in the future. This is also a good place to write down questions you have between therapy sessions, so you don’t forget.
7. Listen Closely
After the therapist gives you feedback, summarize, clarify and reflect back what you heard. This allows for any misunderstandings to be cleared up quickly. For example:
Therapist: “Your child is making progress, but hasn’t mastered this new skill yet which is important for success in other areas. Could you spend time with her each day at home for the next few weeks working on this skill?”
Parent: “So you are saying my child is improving, just not as quickly as you expect? You think she could move ahead faster if we worked on the skill at home between therapy sessions? Do you think 10 minutes a day would be enough?”
If you summarize and use some of the same words the therapist used, the therapist can be sure you understand what is being said, keeping you both on the same page.
8. Be a Mirror
It may sound silly, but mirroring is a psychological tactic proven to work. When talking face to face, reflect or imitate the therapist’s body language. Stand if he is standing. Uncross your arms if his are uncrossed. Match the speed of his speech. Make eye contact and use the same facial expressions. The more alike you and the therapist are during your interactions, the easier it is to have a good relationship.