This blog is on topics of interest to early career professionals who work with people with disabilities. Blog contributors have diverse perspectives on leadership, professional development, and success in changing systems to better serve people with disabilities and their families. For more information on Early Career Professionals, check out the website:

07 October, 2013

A Parent's Voice

Shannon M. Haworth, MA, QMHP
Behavior Analyst
Virginia LEND graduate 2013

Recently graduating from Virginia-LEND and graduate school does technically make me an early career professional.  I feel more of a “career changer” due to life changing events. I am now a Behavior Analyst with my Masters in Applied Behavior Analysis, but in a former life I was an IT Project manager with a PMP certification.  I recently took my examination to be Board Certified (hoping that I passed!). I am now an early career professional because I wanted to serve families of children with developmental disabilities. My own child has autism and has changed my path.

As a “parent /professional” I have a unique perspective on how to serve families. I feel I can treat maladaptive behaviors of children with autism as a professional, but also understand the parents’ perspective.
My discipline during my time in Virginia-LEND was “Family Trainee.”  I was the parent voice to young professionals in many disciplines. That gave me an opportunity to influence how they perceive families and how they care for them. I would like to continue to be that voice for professionals.

As a professional it is hard when I hear conversations blaming parents or not understanding why they did not implement a treatment at home, or missed an appointment.   Every family is different. Think of families driving on a long road. We are all on the road but going at different speeds. Some parents want to follow through on commitments but are entirely overwhelmed and have not dealt with their grief. Other parents have reached a stage where they are on cruise control and can handle more, and get things done. 

I urge professionals to try to see the parent’s perspective, and meet them where they are. As a Behavior Analyst I often try to shape behavior. You do that by reinforcing successive approximations to the desired behavior.  Reinforce parents for what they are doing right, and encourage them to do the things you feel they need to do at home for their child. For example, if a family has certain activities they need to complete at home for OT and they don’t, encourage them and make the task smaller if possible.

Also, professionals should realize they have stereotypes and to not be ashamed of them. Stereotypes are a way of telling us we need more information and we are ignorant on some level. As professionals we need to be culturally competent and treat all types of people. We need to find commonalities and learn to get past any preconceived notions about families or groups.

Lastly, family centered care is essential. Please include families in the treatment of their child, and honor the “parent’s truth.”  Parents may believe that their child has a certain diagnosis, or is not getting all the services they need. You may feel that their point of view is incorrect, but have the conversation anyway.  Treating a child means treating the whole family.

I hope that I can continue to help other professionals who work with children to empathize with families and build relationships with them. That is what makes a professional not just good, but exceptional!