Collective competence with children who have a multifaceted condition

Collective competence around babies and infants who have a multifaceted condition allows practitioners to change their work patterns

Peter Limbrick writes:

The concept of collective competence is an aspect of integration or joint working around babies and young children who have special needs. Because no single practitioner or parent holds all the necessary skills there must be a process in which we all learn from each other how best to support each individual child.

This is achieved in a child’s TAC (Team Around the Child) when everyone learns from each other. It emerges from the joining together of each person’s separate understanding and skills. As an example, we can think again of a baby learning to reach and touch a suspended bauble. For this example we can envisage a baby boy who has difficulties in arm and hand movement combined with limited vision – perhaps with diagnoses of cerebral palsy and vision impairment. His parents are sure he can sometimes see the bauble and have asked their practitioners to help them teach him to touch it. The parents sense this is what their baby wants to do.

To help in this, practitioners must bring together their professional knowledge about how children can be helped to overcome posture and movement difficulties and about how children can make maximum use of limited vision. We must then add parents’ all-round knowledge about their baby boy’s likes and dislikes, interests, favourite toys, times of wakefulness, moods, etc. All of this knowledge is held by separate people, in this example parents, physiotherapist and teacher of vision impaired children, so there must be a process of bringing it all together to help the baby master this multifaceted task. In fact, there is one more person involved in this collective competence because the child brings their present understanding and skills into the mix.

It is a straightforward, uncomplicated and obvious TAC process for this small team of people to share their separate understanding and skills with each other and to discuss ways forward. From this joining up emerges collective competence. Then there needs to be only one person spending time at the side of the cot helping the baby instead of three or four!

This very basic joint working that creates collective competence is, in my view, appropriate generally in support of parents of babies and infants who have a multifaceted condition. If the parents and practitioners around the baby boy persisted in keeping their work separate from each other, there could be no whole view of the baby’s present abilities nor a whole approach to the bauble-reaching task (game). How ridiculous it would be to have all these adults around the boy’s cot on a regular basis with their separate approaches and programmes! Sad to say, this fragmented approach is common in traditional early childhood intervention.

TAC creates a unique and integrated multifaceted action plan for each baby or infant who has a unique multifaceted condition. As the child’s practitioners and parents work closely together in honest, trusting and respectful relationships they achieve collective competence which can help the baby or infant acquire new understanding and skills in the natural activities of babyhood and infancy. This is a common-sense alternative to treating a child in bits.

Collective competence around the baby boy above means that parents, vision impairment teacher and physiotherapist become equally knowledgeable and competent to help the child learn to reach and touch the bauble. In most cases, it will be the parents who devote most time to this natural baby/infant activity with the two practitioners available to help again when necessary.

We can see that achieving collective competence around babies and infants who have a multifaceted condition offers practitioners the possibility of changing their work patterns with the young children on their case list. This brings direct benefit for the new child, the family and the practitioners in the TAC.


The text above is an extract from Bringing up babies and young children who have very special needs

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