Whether you do home visits as a way to initially get to know a student and build rapport with their family or as an ongoing way to supporting programming and student and family goals, the benefits of home visits are irreplaceable.
By being in the home, you get an inside look at what life is like for your students and their families. There have been many occasions where I thought I knew what it was like, but when I went to the home my perspective changed. I saw the student differently which brought up new conversations, ideas and possible goals for the student. The reality is that we only see 6 to 7 hours of our students day at school. There is so much that goes on outside of school. By seeing the full picture, we can support the student more effectively in regard to social, leisure, adaptive, and communication goals.
So what might a home visit look like? Well if I am doing a visit as a way to initially meet the student and the family, it looks different than if I am visiting to support programming on a regular basis. I have done both versions of home visiting, both with their own benefits. In my experience it really depends on the families needs and comfortable level as to which version of home visiting will be most effective for each individual family.
If I am going out as a way to get to know the family, I have very little agenda as I have found it helpful to let the student/family lead the visit. I truly take the time to understand the family, and the student. Some families absolutely run with this idea sharing everything from birth to the present about their child, however other families are a little more reluctant to share, in which case I have these questions stored away in my head to support the visit.
In the beginning, I used these questions like an interview but as I became more comfortable with home visiting, I began to be more flexible with there use. Over the years, I have come to realize that many families want to share their story. By being an active listener with just a few simple questions in mind, I gain more information and rapport from the conversation. That being said, each family is unique! Their culture and experiences make them who they are so I try not to go in with any preconceived notions.
If the family has less to share or seems a little uncomfortable to share, I start by sharing our classroom handbook (click here to see a sample) and introduce the family to my staff with a flyer that shares photos of the important people that will be working with their child.
I might also start playing and interacting with their child, this seems to loosen the visit up, as the family begins to see me as someone that cares for and 'gets' their child. I usually do this by following the students lead. For example, if the student is spinning the wheels of his big monster truck, I join him by doing the same with another truck or vehicle. This interaction can also lead to conversation with the family. As I play, I can ask questions like "Johnny seems to really enjoy monster trucks, what else does he play with around the house?" This question can then lead to the families thoughts about play and how to support Johnny during leisure and social activities.
So what does it look like if I am going into the home for regular sessions to support programming and student goals? The answer depends on the student and the family. Sometimes the sessions are very specific to the needs that the family has for the home, for example I have helped families organize their children's play spaces, helped with feeding, potty training, sleep patterns, playing with siblings and communication. In whatever way the family needs help, I try my best to support them with resources, ideas, strategies and visuals. For example if the family is working on potty training, I might offer them books from my resource library (my favorite toilet training book is 'Toilet Training for Individuals with Autism or Other Developmental Issues by Maria Wheeler') or links via email to sites like TEACCH Autism Program. (NOTE: If the family doesn't have internet I print these types of resources.) Then together we might come up with visuals to support bathroom time and/or have conversations about ways to make bathroom routines doable at home.
The key is to LISTEN to the needs of the student and family and support them in a way that is doable in their everyday lives. It is easy to make suggestions or offer books and resources to families but sometimes that is more than they can handle. Sometimes they, like all of us, are just trying to survive. By adding one more thing we add undo stress which leads to feelings of overwhelmingness and limited progress!
In some situations, the family doesn't have any specific home goals or they aren't sure what the next steps should be, in which case I bring items from the classroom and show them examples of what we are working on at school. For example with a little guy that was working on engaging at classroom circle time, I brought in a towel, stuffed animal, and parachute language board to play 'parachute' with.
A classroom parachute was in the plans for circle time the following week, so by bring in a smaller version of the same parachute game, the student could begin to experience the activity in the calm and comfortableness of his home. As I modeled how to play and use the communication board, the family was able to see how they could engage their child and engage him ways that were similar to the engagement he would experience at school. Which in turn, supported his success with circle time the following week as I left the activity for the family to play with until I returned a few weeks later.
To support families with next steps and help everyone involved be more accountable, prior to leaving each session we fill out this Home Visit form.
I leave the form with the family as well as any resources, visuals, or activities we did together during the visit. Before I leave I take a screenshot of it with my phone so I have it for reference and can put it in the student's school file.
That is all for today! Happy Home Visiting,