To get parents on board… the boat shouldn’t rock!

To anyone who read my first post this could also be subtitled ‘How far can Jo stretch that boat analogy?’

Recently I read and reflected on Van’t Westende, B. & Kok, M ‘Getting Parents on Board with AAC Implementation’ Communication Matters Vol 34 No 2 Aug 2020. 

I was keen to see what was out there in the academic world about supporting parents to implement AAC and found this article in the latest Communication Matters journal. When I sat down to explore this article I didn’t expect to be revising Jungian Psychology. I didn’t do it for long.

To give a very brief summary the authors were working on a project in a school. The project involved helping both teachers and other school staff and parents to do more with AAC. They write about how from their own experience that know that ‘every parent needs their own personal guidance’ and that all families need something different. 

This is where the psychology comes in. They used some ideas based in psychoanalysis written by experts in marketing who had written about what motivates different people at different times. 

The writers describe that some people are self motivated while others are more motivated by external support. That some people feel secure and want to seek opportunities and progress where some people feel less secure and like to find ways to be in control. At any time people are somewhere on each of these scales. If you want to look at the model and the detail with the description the article is on the communication matters website. They write that based on what they found in their project they think Mums are often insecure but might be self or externally motivated. They give us two examples of parents and their differing needs. 

I got thinking about where I fit when trying to describe myself as self or externally motivated and insecure or confident. As the authors rightly identify ‘people are not always in the same place on the model’. 

At times I feel insecure about implementing AAC, for me this is in situations where I think there will be a lot to explain or more to do than just supporting my girl to use AAC. The times I need to advocate for her, help other people understand her AAC use. She’s very much still exploring AAC and I find it hard when people see she has an extensive system and expect her to use it. I also find it challenging when people know she’s just learning to use it and wonder why I give her so much vocabulary. The fact is sometimes it’s just easier not to get it out and to enjoy the here and now and keep control without being a therapist, advocate, tutor. Exactly the behaviours this paper describes as part of feeling insecure. 

On the other hand… the days I’m at the secure end of the spectrum… well they’re really something. A fly on the wall would see it was one of those days. Noodle (which is how I’ll refer to my daughter from now on in this blog) will have her device mounted from the moment she’s up. Heck she’s probably looked at some symbols before she got up while we talk about what’s happening. Symbols not around anywhere? … out with the Makaton. These days are rare but at the end of them I usually feel it’s been a great day. 

In terms of being self motivated or motivated by others. This varies day to day too. Certainly very early in our AAC journey I had to be quite self motivated as SLT provision was scarce. I took it upon myself to learn what I needed to get communication support going for Noodle. On the other hand good group support through a specialist parent and toddler group was a great help with all aspects of parenting a child with complex needs. I’m not sure what putting everything down in a blog says about internal/ external motivation… probably a bit about both!

All in all throughout reading the article I felt there were aspects I could identify with and relate to myself and my experience. Personally I love a good model/ psychological theory to hang experiences on. I do have some reservations about this particular model though. I’m not able to access the original article describing the model so I haven’t read it but I know it to be from a book about marketing. My concern is whether this is applicable to working in the field of communication disability. The model is purely one of internal motivation and behaviour and doesn’t take into account how external factors (medical needs, juggling appointments and school reports, worrying about nutrition, sudden hospitalisation, work, unemployment… heck maybe even just needing a really good nights sleep) have on not just motivation to but also capacity to take on AAC too. Any model that explores parents ‘getting on board’ should, I think, take a much wider view of needs and motivators. Like the title says it’s hard to get on board if the boat is rocking. 

I hope you’ve found this interesting and/or useful. Please comment if there are things you identify with/that you think I’ve got wrong or misunderstood or other articles you think might be interesting. 

2 Responses

  1. Dear Joanna,

    First of all, thank you for thoroughly reading our article and taking the time to create a blog post about it. It was very interesting for us to read about your own experiences as a parent and reflecting upon the model we used. We are delighted to see there are more people valuing the importance of supporting parents (better) on their journey of implementing AAC.

    We fully agree with you stating that human behaviour has both internal and external accelerators. Just as it is for parents: they have internal needs and drivers and they also have to deal with external factors and circumstances. And we agree, the circumstances for sure can outweigh the internal motivators.

    So yes, it is hard to get onboard if the boat is rocking! In our article and with the model, we focus on ‘how the boat is build’ (not so much what makes it rock). The emphasis is on the (different) internal needs and drivers parents have when it comes to supporting their child on implementing AAC. These seem to be more steady over time. Circumstances may vary and you simply don’t know if someone had an challenging night. We also felt this part was underexposed in the (academic) AAC world.

    Last but not least a short note about the heritage of the model. It originates from theories of Jung, Freud and Adler and has been developed by Belgian academics, who later founded a marketing research company. With the use of the model in lots of different contexts and cultures, it has proven itself when it comes to explaining human behaviour Of course there might be better fitting psychological models applicable to the field of (communication) disability. We thought it would offer a good starting point to ‘get the boat moving’…!

    So again, thank you for sharing your thoughts on our article and the psychology behind ‘getting parents onboard’. We hope more will be published and shared about the role of parents in AAC implementation!

    Muriël en Barbara

  2. Dear Muriël and Barbara,
    Thank you so much for your reply. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to reply.
    Firstly I apologies if the blog read as though I was stating that human behaviour has internal and external motivators, I was aiming to summarise your article.
    I certainly appreciate that you wanted to ‘get the boat moving’. I agree that it’s a good starting point and also agree more should be published. I’ve been reading some of the recent research by Alison Moorcroft from Australia and I’m finding her work with parents who have stopped using AAC really enlightening.
    As a parent and therapist I’m relatively new to the field of AAC.
    I hope there is more and more work exploring parent perspectives as i think it’s critical to sound development through AAC.
    I’m looking forward to reflecting more on this over the years.

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