The parent/primary caregiver interview is s necessary part of any quality evaluation. The interview is used to gain information used in several parts of the evaluation.
Approximately 90% of parents/caregivers will be reliable informants on their child’s development. On occasion, when the evaluator has reason to believe that that parent is not a reliable source of information about the child’s development, that should be noted within the evaluation. However, in the majority of cases, research has shown that the parent can give us some of the most important pieces of information that will ultimately guide the evaluator and administrators in making a determination of disability (Restrepo, 1998).
The Primary Caregiver Interview provides the critical information on the child’s communication skills across communicative contexts and partners. It also provides information about the child’s cultural background, exposure to various dialects and languages, as well as his or her experiences with literacy and play. This way, the evaluator can keep in mind the child’s prior knowledge and previous experiences and has a context from which to judge the child’s skills. Every primary caregiver should be asked the following questions:
1. What exposure has your child had to different languages or dialects?
- A child’s language may be evidence of a language disorder or second language acquisition, which may include a silent period, subtractive bilingualism, correct dialect forms, code-switching and/or language transfer,etc.
- EXAMPLE: Only Spanish is spoken at home. J did not respond to English. He and his mother are monolingual/Spanish speakers, and they speak the standard Mexican dialect of Spanish.
2. What is the highest educational level of the mother or primary caregiver?
- Research shows that a child’s vocabulary and literacy achievement is positively correlated with her or his mother’s educational level because the Mother’s educational level corresponds to socio-economic status and SES corresponds to performance on vocabulary, language, and FSIQ and VIQ tests (Pruitt, Oetting, & Hegarty, 2011).
- EXAMPLE: J lives with his mother and 14 month old sister. His parents are separated, but his father visits approximately two times a week. His mother completed sixth grade and his father graduated from high school in Mexico. Both parents emigrated from Mexico two years ago.
3. Have there been any significant changes in the family structure recently?
- Serious disruptions in the child’s life, such as the birth of a sibling, a death in the family, a serious illness, or parental divorce, can have an impact on his or her development and interactions with others.
4. Is there a family history of speech, language, and/or academic problems?
- Research indicates that a genetic basis exists for many communication disorders (Restrepo, 1998).
- EXAMPLE: According to the mother, C’s sister did not talk or walk until she was six years old. No one in her family knew why. Other than this sister, there is no history of speech-language problems or academic problems in either the mother’s or father’s family.
5. How does the child’s speech and language development compare to his/her siblings at the same age or to peers in the child’s speech community?
- This is one of the most important questions to ask. In order to determine a disability, we must be comparing the child to his or her peers. We would not expect a child growing up in Japan to speak Standard American English. We would expect him or her to speak Japanese, the language of his community. So why would we expect a child growing up in New York City, within a diverse cultural and linguistic community to have the same language skills as a Standard American English speaking, middle class child from Illinois?
- EXAMPLE: Henry’s foster father agreed that Henry’s language is not age-appropriate compared to other 3;5 year olds and to his own eight year old son when he was Henry’s age. The father also noted that when Henry came to their home, he spoke less than he does now. In the 6 weeks that he has been with this family, Henry has begun talking a great deal.
- EXAMPLE: The mother reported that J plays with other Spanish-speaking children his age and appears to understand what they are saying without difficulties.
6. Was the child’s performance during the evaluation representative of how he usually acts?
- A child may not want to “perform” for a stranger, seated at a tiny table in a small room with boring spiral-bound manuals full of pictures of watches and rubber ducks. In mainstream American culture, children are expected to interact and converse with known adults and even unknown adults (e.g., doctors, parent’s friends, neighbors). However, other cultures expect other behaviors from their children. Some cultures expect children to be quiet and obedient. A quiet child that doesn’t engage adults around him may not be an example of a child with a possible speech and language disability, but a well behaved and well raised child.
7. What does your child do that makes you know (s)he is smart? Describe your child’s strengths and weaknesses.
- This question provides insight into the child’s abilities. It also provides insight into the parent’s reliability as a reporter. This information can be especially useful when the child is a multiply disabled child or an adolescent.
8. What progress or regression has happened over the past 6 months?
- Often children make significant progress between the time they are referred for the evaluation and the time evaluation actually happens.
9. Ask caregiver to bring in 10 examples of student’s best communications and where it breaks down between the time you schedule the evaluation and you see the student.
Parents and caregivers don’t usually bring 10 examples, but they do often bring 4 or 5. The evaluator may not, and likely will not, see the child’s strongest communication skills in an unnatural setting (e.g., the SLP’s office) with an unknown adult (e.g., the evaluator). Utterances provided by the parent or primary caregiver can give information about the child’s best communication in a more natural context. Additionally, the utterances can be used to help illustrate holograms within the evaluation.
Pruitt, S., Oetting, J. & Hegarty, M. (2011). Passive Participle Marking by African American English-Speaking children reared in Poverty. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 54, 598-607.
Restrepo, M. A. (1998). Identifiers of predominantly Spanish-speaking children with language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 41, 1398-1411.