Sunday, 9 June 2019

Mugglevision - Being a clinician to a child with learning difficulties

We all see the world through our own eyes.  It is normal to assume that the person we are communicating with has a similar enough perception of the world to mean that the rules of communication and interaction are fairly standard.

What if your patient has a very different perception of the world to the one you have?  Many of our patients fit into a group that experience the world quite differently to us.  This group includes children and young people with what would be classified medically as having a syndrome, neurodisability, learning difficulties, special educational needs or other such labels.  The trouble with labels is that they are just that - a label.  Labels can be dehumanising and sometimes irritating.  So, to avoid this trap and because it facilitates a theme, I shall refer to any such child as magical.  That makes you and me the muggles in the encounter.
When a muggle meets a person from the magical world, it can be a little difficult to know what to say or do.  That's normal.  What can happen in such circumstances is that the clinician (muggle) retreats to a place of safety, concentrating on the medical aspect of the consultation and communicating primarily with the family (who are also likely to be muggles).

There is a better way than this.  Being a muggle doesn't mean you have to worry about getting it wrong.  If you ask the child and their family what works well, they'll be happy to tell you.  Here are a few of the things they are likely to tell you:

What the (magical) young people tell us:

What the (muggle) family of the (magical) young people tell us:

Next time you encounter a child (regardless of their label) who has learning difficulties, have these as useful rules of thumb.  Each child is different, so if your not sure how best to behave with a magical person, ask them and the muggles they bring with them.

Edward Snelson
Magical world liaison officer

Many thanks to Liz Herrieven for help with this post.
  1. Liz Herrievan, Learning Difficulties in the ED, RCEM Learning