Disability professionals: what to expect

Disability professionals: what to expect

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What to look for in disability professionals

Your disability professionals should be competent, skilled and knowledgeable in their area of expertise. Your relationship with professionals is more likely to be successful if the professionals have the following three qualities.

Family centred
This means disability professionals should:

  • take the needs of the whole family into account when working with you and your child. They should be focused on finding solutions that work not only for your child but for the whole family. Expect them to ask lots of questions about how your family works
  • seek out your family's strengths and build on them
  • listen to your concerns and encourage you to voice your opinions, ask questions, share views and information, and make suggestions
  • appreciate your role as an advocate for your child
  • collaborate and work with you as a partner on behalf of your child
  • develop creative strategies that fit in as much as possible with the daily life of your family.

Child centred
This means disability professionals should:

  • see your child as a person and look beyond her disability
  • pay attention to what your child can do, not just what she can't do, and build on her strengths
  • relate respectfully and appropriately to your child
  • ensure your child feels comfortable and supported
  • set achievable goals and tasks for your child
  • review your child's progress regularly
  • show pleasure in your child's progress and achievements.

This means disability professionals should:

  • be courteous and respectful to you, your child and other family members
  • give you the information you need in a way you can understand, and allow enough time to explain things to you
  • give you information or other resources to help you understand the risks of interventions and make decisions about them
  • refer you to other services and talk with other professionals involved with your child (with your consent) so you can get coordinated advice and support.

It can be easy to feel overshadowed by disability professionals or to feel you're handing your child over to them, but your role is important. You might worry you'll be seen as difficult if you push for what you want. But you're the person who knows most about your child and has the greatest commitment to him. Don't agree to anything you aren't happy with, are unsure about or find confusing.

The professional's relationship with your child

Whether your child is a young baby or an older child, expect the professional to:

  • be able to interact easily with children
  • talk directly to your child when necessary
  • say things about your child that are helpful and appropriate for her to hear, and avoid talking about her as though she isn't present, even when talking to you
  • be sensitive to your child
  • respond appropriately if your child is displaying any verbal or nonverbal signs of being uncomfortable.

What to do if you disagree with disability professionals

Sometimes you'll disagree with the professionals you work with. For example, you might feel that your child isn't getting enough support. Here are some steps to take if you need to resolve a disagreement.

Start by speaking directly to your professional. Most of the time you and the professional will be able to sort things out. The stronger your relationship, the easier it will be to do this. Make a special appointment to talk about things that are worrying you. It's difficult to have a serious discussion in a casual encounter or when your child is present.

These tips for communicating might help during your discussion:

  • Say honestly and tactfully what's bothering you.
  • Be specific about your concerns.
  • Avoid criticising the professional or the service the professional works for. You're much more likely to get a helpful response if the professional feels you're working together.
  • Listen to what the professional is saying - the professional should have your child's best interests at heart, just as you do.
  • Try to see the situation from the professional's perspective, because the professional might have some interesting ideas.

If the issue is very serious or you feel uncomfortable raising the issue, consider bringing a friend, family member or advocate along to support you. Let the professional know in advance if you're bringing someone else with you.

If you can't resolve the issue directly with the professional, make an appointment to speak to the professional's supervisor, team leader or manager. Most services have policies and procedures to resolve differences between parents and staff members.

If this doesn't sort things out, ask about the service's grievance process or contact the service's head office or regional office.

If you still feel your concerns haven't been addressed, you can contact the authority that investigates complaints in your state or territory. This might be an ombudsman or other authority. Another option is to make an appointment to see your local member of parliament.

Keep notes of all these meetings and discussions so you can accurately remember what happens.

Advocacy support for disputes with disability professionals

If you have an issue with a disability professional or service and you're having trouble sorting it out, you might need advocacy support.

The following organisations can help you advocate on your child's behalf:

  • Advocacy Tasmania
  • Association for Children with Disability (Tasmania)
  • Association for Children with a Disability (Victoria)
  • Australian Government Department of Social Services - National Disability Advocacy Program
  • Carers Australia
  • Family Advocacy (New South Wales)
  • National Association of Community Legal Centres
  • Queensland Advocacy.

What guides a professional's behaviour?

Most of the people you work with will belong to a professional association. These associations usually have a code of professional practice or ethical (or practice) standards, which outlines their professional responsibilities. Some examples of these are:

  • Allied Health Professionals Australia - Allied health accreditation
  • Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) Practice Standards
  • Australian Psychological Society (APS) Charter for Clients of APS Psychologists
  • Developmental Educators Australia - Code of Ethics and Practice for Developmental Educators
  • Early Childhood Australia - Code of Ethics.


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