Any savvy parent of a child with special needs will tell you that there are many tenets to a successful therapy program. But one crucial piece to the dynamic that is often overlooked is team collaboration. If your child is receiving therapies from numerous providers across multiple disciplines, such speech, physical and occupational therapies, team collaboration is critical.
Why Collaboration is Important
Some children receive therapy from as many as six different providers per day; that’s six different therapeutic styles and six different behavioral approaches. It could also mean as many as 30-40 different goals addressed each day. This can be incredibly overwhelming for the child with special needs, and it could also set up a situation in which the child does not generalize the skills he learns.
However, when a particular skill is targeted within each session— across different therapists and disciplines— parents notice that the time it takes to master the skill significantly improves or a difficult behavior quickly disappears. For example, when all therapists work together to eradicate grabbing in the therapy sessions they lead, this behavior, which can have many negative implications during peer interactions, can be extinguished within a couple of days. Similarly, if two speech language pathologists working with the same client jointly target a particular phoneme like “f,” a sound combination like “ba,” a syllable structure such as monosyllabic or multi-syllabic, or certain target words such as “in” or “on” within each their sessions, then these skills are attained more quickly. And, when these speech language pathologists (SLPs) share their goals at a team meeting for the particular child, the other therapists can target them as well. This in turn creates a seamless way for the child with special needs to master and subsequently generalize these goals.
Basics of a Successful Team Meeting
- Plan in advance. Arranging a time that works for everyone can be a challenge. Don’t expect your child’s therapists to be able to meet next week. Instead, be realistic and schedule dates three to four weeks in advance. This gives the therapists enough time to structure their schedules around the meeting. If a therapist cannot be physically present, ask him or her if it’s possible to call in during the time of the meeting. You can then put the therapist on speaker phone during the meeting for the person to weigh in on any discussions.
- Consider meeting on certain nights. Typically held at night after everyone’s work day, a meeting on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday tends to work best. After weekend festivities, Mondays can be difficult, and most therapists do not want to attend a meeting on a Friday night.
- Try not to schedule the start time of a meeting after 7pm. Many of your child’s therapists work very long days. Depending on each person’s commute, adding another one to three hours designated for work is rough.
- Be mindful of the clock during each meeting and do not exceed an hour. This means you have to limit the chitchat that sometimes occurs when a bunch of therapists— many of whom are friends— get together. To stay within your time frame, create an agenda or assign a team leader, someone who can moderate the meeting for you and take notes. Ask each of your clients to prepare a handout of the current goals they are working on ahead of time to share at the meeting.
- Expect the therapists to charge you for their time and remember each clinician’s fee scales are different. Most therapists charge a session rate. Some expect reimbursement for travel time.
- Save the notes from each meeting. These will serve as time stamps of your child’s progress and also remind you how far your child has come with therapy. Many parents look to “close the gap” between their child with special needs and the child’s typically developing peers. Parents can thus overlook just how much their child has progressed.
- Provide drinks and light snacks. Often therapists will say they do not need to eat. However, many of them come to your house before eating dinner and a light snack is always appreciated.
- If time permits, set up tentative dates for the next team meeting. Consider having a team meeting every three months and always confirm meetings one month before they occur and again the week of each meeting.
Successful communication after a meeting is crucial. Facilitating your group’s successful interactions, both during and in between meetings, is a matter of trial and error. Many families use a notebook in which each therapist writes a brief note after each session. The notebook generally travels with the child to each of his therapies, and it lets the therapists communicate with each other on paper. Some families prefer to set up a weekly e-mail exchange between therapists. And other families set up a Facebook account in their child’s name as a virtual meeting ground for the therapists to update each other on the client’s progress.
Remember that you are your child’s biggest advocate. In many cases, you are also your child’s voice. Be vocal about your concerns. Express to your child’s collaborative team the goals that are important to you and your family. Also discuss your child’s daily routine with the therapists and be honest about carry-over at home. And just as important, express your appreciation. When the parents are happy, the child is happy— and the therapists should be happy. Vocalize your thanks. A strong collaborative relationship is the ideal breeding ground for everyone’s success.