The Evaluation Conversations

What does an evaluation conversation with a child look and sound like?

I approach my evaluation time with children as an opportunity to understand the child’s unique view of the world. Children on the autism spectrum immediately understand when an adult is trying to get them to follow an agenda and tend to resist this process. I make a connection with the child by carefully watching how the child interacts with the world and begin my interactions with the child on his terms instead requiring him to follow my agenda.

The conversation unfolds as the child works with me to explore sensory toys and topics of interest. I call this having a “neuro-atypical” conversation. When a child is nonverbal or has limited language, the introduction of sensory toys provides the conversational bridge. Verbal children enjoy it when I jump into talking about their areas of interest and we share facts and details about the topics that fascinate them.

A “neuro-atypical” conversation takes the social and language pressure off of the child; something that is fundamentally stressful for all children on the autism spectrum. Children on the autism spectrum relax and share their worldview more extensively when they are approached in this conversational way.

My experience has been that children on the autism spectrum truly enjoy the opportunity to share a sensory-based conversation with others. And of course, I enjoy having the opportunity to get to know each child and to be able to describe the child’s unique way of interacting with the world in my conversations with that child’s parents and teachers.

What is an autism conversation with parents?

There are two important autism conversations that need to take place between parents and evaluators. The first one is the conversation that makes up a parent interview. Parents have a story to tell about their child that cannot be told through formal checklists or even in a traditional clinical interview. I use a conversational approach to interview parents and teachers and the book provides examples of how to set up a productive conversation between evaluators and parents or teachers.

The second important conversation takes place when evaluators share the diagnosis with parents. The book covers the skills involved in understanding the process parents are going through and learning how to use non-technical but descriptive language when talking to parents about their child. Readers learn how to talk about children as unique individuals who happen to have a pattern of distinctive differences in their development rather than distilling the unique child down into a label or checklist of behaviors.

What is the written conversation?

The written conversation, which helps both parents and teachers understand the child, is the narrative written report. Just as evaluators are helped by learning the skills involved in talking with parents about children as individuals, they benefit by learning how to write nuanced, descriptive reports, which help both parents and teachers understand the child.