As we approach Better Hearing & Speech Month (May), we might consider our delivery of facts, diagnoses, advice, and resources. A recent story on NPR detailed how a campaign to educate parents on the facts behind vaccines and autism, may not be changing parents’ behavior.

Researchers at Dartmouth College have found that individual’s behavior may be unexpected when confronted with information that goes against what they believe. Although they may accept it as true, they may choose not to act on it, especially when the new information damages their self-esteem, challenges their identity, or addresses an issue foundational to the way they lead their life. In the case of vaccines, they have found that even while understanding and accepting the safety of the vaccines, some parents receiving the information were less likely to vaccinate future children.

In our role as specialists in the school, we are often in the position of presenting evidence-based information that might seem counter-intuitive or illogical in an effort to support communication skills among the most needy children. A couple of examples that come to mind are encouraging parents to speak in their native language at home to support langauge development in English, or encouraging use of an AAC device or sign language to support development of oral language.

These are issues that cut to the core identity of a parent and their understanding of their rolein their child’s life. Brendan Nyhan at Dartmouth College is currently researching whether boosting parents’ self-esteem before delivering new information might make them more likely to implement the new ideas.

How can we support parents, and affirm their experiences, beliefs, and desires to do the right thing for their child, all while delivering evidence-based information about language development? At the very least, we can be aware that just having the facts on our side may not be enough. Our delivery must take into account the experience and perspectives of other team members, and be based on respectful relationships.

What are your experiences?