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Communication and Confidentiality: Say THIS, not THAT

Child Development / Family / Special Needs //

I love those segments on the “Today” show featuring David Zinczenko, author of Eat This, Not That.  It’s fascinating to me that a few changes in a meal can transform it from gluttonous to good-for-you. It seems that the main idea (based on good, common sense) is to focus on what is nutritious and necessary to the body, and leaving out the excess ingredients that promote disease. By doing this, you end up with a healthy body and a good taste in your mouth.

What a good word-picture for communication about children and families…

When working with kids and families who have special needs, we must choose our words carefully. We want to include accurate descriptions of behavior that inform, rather than judge. Our communication with parents is a time to build up relationships and offer solutions.

A few guidelines:

  • Report what you SEE and HEAR, not how you FEEL
  • Don’t editorialize; leave your opinions out.
  • Focus on working together and finding a solution
  • Pray before you speak. Ask God to guide your words
  • Remember that parents of kids with special needs are all-too accustomed to hearing negative reports about their children.And it hurts. Try to focus on a positive aspect of the student’s character.

SO…let’s play “Say THIS, not THAT..”

Instead of this…

We were playing a Simon Says game after our Bible story today. Eric didn’t get the first turn to be “Simon” and he just started having a big old fit. He had big crocodile tears running down his face and then he started being a really bad sport about the whole game. It just ruined it for everyone else, so we took him out in the hall. He really needs to learn to take turns…he’s old enough to know how to play a game!

Say THIS…

Our class played a game of Simon Says after the Bible story. Another student was chosen to be the first leader. Eric appeared frustrated and started to cry. During the game, he began to yell while the other students were playing. After three minutes, his buddy took him into the hallway. He calmed down after two minutes, and chose to draw a picture instead of playing. I can’t wait to see him again next week; he adds so much to our class’s community!”

Can you see the difference? Same “ingredients” but a much healthier description.

Here’s another example:

Instead of THIS…

“Jillian showed up for tonight’s youth event in a foul mood. During our break-out session, she kept sassing me as I led the discussion. Every time one of the other girls made a comment, she totally trashed what they said. I had to make her leave the group. We really like Jillian, but she can’t keep ruining the discussions for everyone else.”

Say THIS…

“When Jillian arrived at youth group, I noticed the expression on her face immediately; it appeared that she had been crying, and her brows were furrowed. During our discussion, she rolled her eyes when other girls made comments, and she also used phrases like “Yeah…I see how you treat people in real life…” or “Seriously?” four times. When I asked her to please be quiet, she said that she doesn’t like following our rules and she doesn’t like church. I asked that she take a walk with one of our other volunteers, which she did. I wonder how we can work together to help Jillian feel more comfortable in our group; she has a tremendous sense of fairness, and that is something some of the other girls need very much.”

The emphasis is on working together, and using the student’s strengths for the Body.

 

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About the Author

Katie Wetherbee completed her undergraduate work at Vanderbilt University, where she majored in Special Education and Human & Organizational Development. Katie began her teaching career in the Washington, DC area at a public school. Since then, she has taught in a variety of settings, including a community college, a psychiatric hospital day school and a learning center. Katie holds a master’s degree in education from Hood College, where she served on the adjunct faculty for the Reading Specialist program. Currently, Katie works as an educational consultant in private practice. Her own experience as a mother to a child with special needs, along with her teaching background, gives Katie a unique perspective on advocacy. She has been invited to speak at local parent groups and also for the Northern Ohio Hemophilia Association, the Cancer Survivor Center at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital and the OCALI national conference. Additionally, Katie is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in publications such as Nashville Magazine, Northeast Ohio Family, and HeartShapers. She served as the education columnist for Currents News in Northeast Ohio for two years. She recently completed a year-long series on special needs ministry for K! Magazine and also writes a column for Children’s Ministry Magazine. A lifelong Christian, Katie has enjoyed a variety of volunteer positions in churches. She has taught both Sunday School and Vacation Bible School as well as volunteering in high school and middle school youth groups. She and her husband led a Young Couples group in two churches. In addition, Katie has served on Christian Education Committees and as a Sunday School Superintendent. Katie is thrilled to combine her passion for families affected by disabilities with her faith in Christ. Katie has presented at the Joni and Friends International Bioethics Conference, the Accessibility Summit at McLean Bible Church, The Tough Ministries Conference in Houston, and the Group Publishing KidMin Conference. She is currently working on a book designed for Sunday School volunteers, and also serves on the special needs curriculum team for Standard Publishing. Katie’s most important credential is her “MBA:” She is MOM to Bill and Annie. Katie and her husband, Tom, live with their two teenagers and a quirky mutt named Mitzie, in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. Why “Diving for Pearls?” Click here for the story.