When it comes to Early Intervention for children as a society, I believe we have a sound understanding of its importance and a very strong call to action. However, at times early intervention can come in the absence of recognising how important it is to support the whole family. Given that children live within the systems of their family, within their routines and daily lives, it is just as critical for early intervention to focus on supporting parents and siblings, just as it is to specifically support a child. Research also outlines that positive family wellbeing leads to positive child wellbeing, which sets the foundations for positive developmental outcomes for a child.
One way we can have a positive impact on family wellbeing is by building the confidence and sense of capacity of a parent/carer. When a therapist is able to sit alongside a parent in the natural setting of their home and show them how to use and embed different strategies in their everyday routines, they feel empowered and more confident in both understanding and supporting their child.
Certainly, the NDIS guidelines for early childhood supports, and best practice guidelines, highlight the importance of delivering support in the home and community and to build the capacity of primary caregivers across their natural environments. This approach also allows a therapist to support a family in other community routines, such as going to the grocery store, movies, or swimming lessons, giving them a sense of confidence in accessing their community. This is very different to the traditional view of therapy in a clinic.
Another way in which we can build on family wellbeing is through connection. We all seek connection, and certainly COVID has highlighted the negative impacts of social isolation. In listening to many parents over the years who have a child with a developmental delay, disability or neurodivergent needs, social isolation is always often a common theme. Whether it’s due to extended family members lack of acceptance or understanding, fear of negative social judgement, or the community not being ‘set up’ to be more accessible, most parents are faced with this feeling of ‘isolation’ in an ongoing way, like we all felt during those lock downs. However, imagine if the lockdown did not seem to have an end?
One of the core objectives of the Fit Kidz Foundation is to address this isolation. We do this by providing opportunities for parents to connect with each other through hosting family BBQs, community access visits, parent support groups, parent committee groups, parent conferences and other family events. The hope is that these meaningful connections will provide a support network of parents who ‘just get it’, who they can lean on whilst they navigate their journey and essentially feel less ‘isolated’. It is important that professionals working with families understand how social connection impacts on family wellbeing and how to facilitate this through supporting community participation in their family support plans.
However, to ensure that families who have a child with a developmental delay or disability have the same opportunities to be active and meaningful members of our community, requires a community which is understanding, supportive and inclusive. Whilst there are a range of government initiatives and programs to facilitative an inclusive society, it also relies on every community member and their inclusive behaviour. A common reason families will not access the community is a fear of social evaluation from other community members. The only way to break down this barrier for families is for each and every community member (like you and I) to reflect on our values and behaviours around true inclusion.
‘When we all help each other out, when we stand together, we are stronger together.’
Written by Ellen Witzlsperger
Educational & Developmental Psychologist