Student's Say: One Careful Conversation at a Time A new camp counselor learns that small steps make interactions with parents less overwhelming. Student's Say
Student's Say  |   February 01, 2014
Student's Say: One Careful Conversation at a Time
Author Notes
  • Shanise McPhatter
    will graduate in May from the University at Buffalo with bachelor’s degrees in speech and hearing sciences and in psychology. She plans to attend an audiology graduate program in the fall. ·
Article Information
Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / Normal Language Processing / Student's Say
Student's Say   |   February 01, 2014
Student's Say: One Careful Conversation at a Time
The ASHA Leader, February 2014, Vol. 19, 36-37. doi:10.1044/leader.SSAY.19022014.36
The ASHA Leader, February 2014, Vol. 19, 36-37. doi:10.1044/leader.SSAY.19022014.36
“What have I gotten myself into?”
This thought was one of the first that popped into my head when I realized that the parents of my social skills campers expected daily reports on their children’s progress. The prospect of having to talk and give feedback to parents seemed overwhelming.
I should have anticipated their questions: As a counselor at a camp that offers skills training for children with autism spectrum disorder, I spent all day with the campers and was the person parents would naturally seek out for information. In fact, part of my job was to fill out daily reports on the children’s individual social goals (such as sustaining eye contact with conversational partners) and then explain them to their parents.
To my knowledge, there is no college course that can truly prepare you for the on-the-spot questions and the variety of attitudes that parents can throw at you. However, I learned a few guidelines that transformed me from the scared, overwhelmed person I was on the first day to the trusted and confident source of information I was on “graduation” day.
First-day jitters
Being thrown into my interactions with parents on the first day definitely had its pros and cons. I learned quickly from my very first interactions that a smile can go a long way. As I greeted my new campers with a big grin and wave, the parents visibly relaxed.
I also learned that, as scared and anxious I was about meeting my campers, their parents were equally scared and anxious about meeting me. Body language is another important part of interactions—you do not want to seem closed off or barricaded by, for example, standing still with your arms crossed. A parent who receives this negative message will pick up on it and may become wary. Just as the kids picked up on their parents’ feelings, I realized the parents would take their cues from me.
Confidence, I learned, is also key. I didn’t develop the “parent confidence” skill overnight, but rather over the course of the summer.
“Parent confidence”—as we called it among my fellow counselors—is different from plain old confidence. It takes a bit more preparation. And even if you ready yourself for parental interaction by mentally rehearsing an agenda of how the conversation is going to go, you could be bombarded with questions about things you did not even consider. When you receive a barrage like this, your speech can dissolve into a bunch of “ums” and “maybes” that can leave you—and the parents—feeling a bit unsettled.
The most important thing to remember during those situations is that parents are not usually out to make counselors the bad guys or to place blame. As treatment providers, we are the only source of information about how well or poorly a child is doing at specific tasks. It’s only natural that parents are eager hear whatever details we can give them.
I developed a plan for these types of interactions: I made sure I paid attention, carefully considered every question the parent asked, thought out what I would say, and took my time answering. Following these steps helped me feel more confident, and I didn’t feel rushed and tongue-tied.
My confidence and ease was only one side of the coin, however; it was also important to make sure that parents understood what I told them. As I presented a daily report and reviewed the events of the day, I made sure to speak slowly and carefully and to avoid using jargon without explaining it thoroughly.
Parents always appreciated the extra effort, and the frequency of tricky parent conversation situations took a plunge. Parents notice when you are going the extra mile to make them feel comfortable—and in return, they generally try to help you, creating a nurturing and peaceful environment for the children.
Not just parents, partners
The long-term lesson I learned is that in any job with children— today’s camp counselor or future audiologist—an important partner goes home every day with my client. That partner is a parent or guardian.
Parents and clinicians should work as a team to provide the best possible outcomes for children. That task definitely can be daunting at first, just like any new task can be. However, you want to try to build a relationship of harmony, not discord.
At the end of my summer camp, I received hugs from the children and their parents. I realize that not all situations involve parents who are supportive. But I also realize that whatever the situation, it’s important to put 100 percent of your effort into your 50 percent of the relationship.
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February 2014
Volume 19, Issue 2