By Monica Morela, behavioral aide at Connecting Dots
Many scholars within the field of disability studies illustrate the relationship between service providers and families by using different analogies. Yuen (2003) describes how having a child with a disability can be like embarking on a journey to space. Such a quest can be exciting at times, lonely, or scary; and asking for help along the way is always necessary. Alternatively, parents describe having a child with a disability as feeling like a spider sitting on a web (Yuen, 2003). Where weak strands are strengthened by connection, and where a ‘web’ of professionals are there to help. I think that Fialka (2001) beautifully illustrates the professional-family relationship by comparing this connection to a dance. In service provider relationships and in a dance, there is an element of forced intimacy. The nature of our circumstances brings us nose-to-nose with strangers in ways that can be awkward. Being aware of this awkwardness can help behavioral aides and therapists to think about how we can reduce the number of times we step on toes!
Another dimension of Fialka’s (2001) illustration that I found very poignant was the idea of who leads the dance of services. Many practitioners will refer to parents as the experts on their children. It might be more accurate to refer to parents as contributors. In a dance, each individual’s contribution can evolve and build on each other as we offer different perspectives about a child. Finally, in a dance, each partner listens to music that guides the movements of their dance. In the dance of services, ‘music’ can be an illustration of priorities. Priorities for parents and service providers can sometimes differ. This difference can lead to misunderstandings regarding the role and goal of services. When practitioners are willing to put on parents ‘headphones’ they will hear the experiences of parents and will be more effective in strengthening the parent-professional relationship.
Fialka, J. (2001). The dance of partnership. Young Exceptional Children, 4(2), 21–27. https://doi.org/10.1177/109625060100400204
Yuan, S. (2003). Seeing with new eyes: Metaphors of family experience. Mental Retardation, 41(3), 207-211. doi:10.1352/0047-6765(2003)412.0.co;2