‘Seeing the whole child’ and ‘Seeing the child in the family’ What can these phrases mean to practitioners in ECI?
Who is competent to achieve these ambitions with babies and young children with disabilities and special needs?
Peter Limbrick writes: I am offering below a brief report of an attempt I made last year in the special circumstances of visiting a family I had not met before in the Czech Republic.
At the invitation of the organisation, EDUCO, I was accompanying one of their Counsellors, J, to see how they support children and families. Their Counsellors have much in common with Keyworkers, using Interconnections terminology.
In this visit, with a very warm welcome from the parents, I attempted as an onlooker to see K as a whole child in the family setting. His older pre-school brother, H, was at home and stayed in the same room. Some TAC Bulletin readers will perhaps not feel ready to observe and comment on the whole child and family as I have done. Others will surely feel they would have made a much better job of it than I did.
Letter to the family:
Thank you for inviting me to your home to see J (the Counsellor) working. It was a great pleasure for me. I can see that both of your boys have wonderful personalities and strengths and that they are both loved. Like all children, they both also have needs.
I saw that K has many abilities. He is charming, warm and friendly and wants to please. He has good relationships with both of you and with his brother. He is able to focus his attention and concentrate for a long time when he is interested. I feel this is remarkable for his age. He uses vision and hearing well, has good ability with both hands and has a good ‘pincer’ grasp. He uses hands and eyes together in hand/eye co-ordination.
He understands familiar situations and requests and remembers activities in previous sessions. He has a good sense of humour and good self-esteem. He is eager to communicate and finds ways to do this – using pointing, gestures and sounds. He has curiosity and a desire to learn new things. He has energy, vitality and spirit – not always found in children of his age.
I can see that H is proud of his little brother and liked for some of the time to be part of the activities with J. He also has his own interests, his own emotional needs and his own wish to sometimes be the focus of attention – which I am sure he is at other times.
It can sometimes seem to older brothers and sisters that their younger sibling gets all the attention. They can feel this even though it is not true. When I see two children in a family who are both happy, loveable, loving and eager to learn, I know it is because of what their parents have given them in the first years.
I congratulate you both. Your two boys have all the valuable characteristic that will help them with the challenges they will meet in growing up. Thank you again for allowing me to visit you. I will always remember this very happy occasion.
Although this was a one-off visit as an observer, I would have had the same approach if I was going to work with the child. But this sincere attempt to observe a whole child in a family setting does not mean being competent to offer interventions across the whole range of child development.
The Counsellor/Keyworker’s responsibility is to interact, observe, ask questions, discuss with parents and explore with them any specialist observations or examinations that might be required, for example with vision, hearing, cognition, movement.
It is my contention that all specialist teachers and therapists, for instance in vision, hearing, cognition and movement, should aspire to observing the whole child and the child in the family setting at the same time as focusing on their specialism. Those who can do home visits are in a very fortunate position.
This whole approach allows each practitioner and the child’s parents to acknowledge and work with the connectedness and interdependence between all aspects of child development. It helps reduce fragmented and compartmentalised mind sets in early childhood intervention.
On this subject, I recommend Levitt, S. (1994) Basic Abilities: A whole approach. UK: Souvenir Press