When a family or person calls into CADD to request an evaluation or services, I am the first person the requestor will speak to. Most calls generally last about 7-10 minutes each because it takes awhile to obtain the information needed from the family and to explain our evaluation process and services.
There’s always a line that I will not cross when taking phone calls from prospective clients: no clinical information or recommendations are given to family and I do not get personal with parents. This is especially difficult for me personally, because I want to reassure parents that they are taking the right steps towards treatment. I try to put myself in parent’s shoes- many of them have no idea what they’re doing, just calling us because their “child’s pediatrician told (them) to.”
Yesterday, I received a phone call that really pressed that fine line of professionalism for me. A single mother called in to see where her child is on the waitlist. She was obviously very overwhelmed and emotional. She and I spoke back in May and that’s when she received the new patient packet to complete for her child. You can imagine her relief when I told her that her child was ready to be scheduled and that I just needed her child’s completed intake paperwork.
What I assumed would be a quick phone call, turned into a twenty minute conversation about her difficulties as a single mom. I chalked this up as a lonely mother who needed to talk to someone other than her non-verbal autistic child. Then I realized that I often feel that way too.
Once I hung up the phone with her, I had a fear that maybe I was too lax with her. Much to my surprise, the same mother called me again today. Our phone conversation lasted about another 25 minutes. This time, the mother was crying and confessing her fears for her child’s future. I assured her that she was coming to the right place if she was looking for professionals to be “real” with her and to give her guidance into her child’s care. She thanked me several times for listening to her and helping her navigate our services and complete the new patient paperwork, and jokingly asked if she and I could get coffee together. I chuckled but thought in the back of my mind, that’s what I need- another mother that feels similar feelings I do, or thinks about her child the way I do about Greyson.
Alas, now I wonder: do I continue to not tread along that fine line I have set for myself? Is it better for me to get personal with these parents without giving clinical advice because I understand how they feel? I personally would rather speak with someone that can relate to my feelings and fears, than someone who says “I know how you feel” without actually knowing. I absolutely love speaking with parents that call in to CADD, but the farther we go on our personal journey with Greyson, I can’t help but feel like I want to cry when a parent cries, be angry when a parent is angry, or celebrate their child’s smallest successes with them. All because I live the same life they do. I truly get it because I am attempting to survive the exact same way they are.
When I have an emotional mom on the phone describing her difficulties with her child, I often refer her to the PA Autism Resource Center (ASERT) to find a support group for other parents of autistic children. As I heard the words come out of my mouth today to this particular mother, I felt as though I was living a double standard. I have so many people telling me that I should join a support group, but I always brush it off. Why am I giving resources and ideas to other parents if I can’t even take my own advice?
My professional goal over the past two years has been to lead and live as a more professional individual. But now I wonder: should my goal be to maintain professionalism while I use my own personal story to lead me? Do I tread the fine line more often and truly connect with these parents that call in? Will that benefit me in my position, or hurt me? Guess these are just questions I will continue to seek the answers to….