By Valerie Abbott
A friend recently reached out to me to talk about getting a second opinion for her son. As my child was diagnosed with hearing loss ten years ago, this mom was struggling with some recommendations offered by her child’s new audiologist and wanted advice about whether or not to seek another professional’s viewpoint.
That got me thinking about second opinions and why we sometimes wrestle with the idea of getting one. More frequently than not, the decision to find another professional and get another evaluation from someone who likely doesn’t know our child isn’t easy. Our anxiety increases, our sleep is interrupted, we sit on the fence for a while – why is that?
The more I thought about it, I identified three key reasons why some parents, myself included, struggle with the decision to get a second opinion:
Guilt – As a parent advocate for a child with a disability, I have learned that feeling guilty sometimes is part of our journey. Did I do enough? Did I make the right choice? But, questioning the knowledge and expertise of a professional can also lead me down the road to feeling guilty. After all, what if the professional is right? I’ve learned that if I put my guilt to the side for a second, I can see more clearly the reasons why a second opinion would be beneficial and pick up the phone to make the appointment.
Relationships– For those of us who are people pleasers, we will go to great lengths to establish and maintain good, solid relationships with everyone connected to our child. Early intervention providers, therapists, medical professionals, educators. We want them to “like us” and “like our child.” If we seek a second opinion, we don’t really know how that might impact the relationship we’ve worked so hard to establish – a relationship we might need to lean on later. We assume that seeking a second opinion could be interpreted by the first professional as, “I don’t trust what you’ve told me.” I’ve learned that the best professionals don’t see second opinions in this way at all. They understand that parents only want what is best for their child and seeking advice from another person is perfectly appropriate.
The Truth– Sometimes, the truth is what leads us towards or away from seeking a second opinion. We either desperately want to confirm what our gut is telling us about our child. Or, we are in denial and hoping another evaluation or opinion will tell us what we want to hear – that the first diagnosis or opinion was wrong and everything is just fine. In either case, it’s important to listen to our heart and our head in our quest for the right answer – not necessarily the answer we want to hear.
This is where parent to parent support plays an instrumental role in helping families identify and move past the barriers that keep them from seeking a second opinion, or in some cases, recognizing that a second opinion isn’t necessary. Talking with another family who is familiar with the journey of children with a disability, even a family you might not know very well, can bring in a fresh, unemotional but empathetic perspective. Hearing the questions, “What’s holding you back? Why do you think your current professional might be wrong? What do you think or hope a different professional will tell you?” can help parents identify their main fear about seeking a second opinion, which will then lead them down the best path towards the truth.
**Valerie Abbott is a 1-3-6 Family Educator and Learning Community Coordinator for the Center for Family Involvement at VCU. In this dual role, Valerie works closely with parents of deaf and hard-of-hearing children and professionals to help reduce loss to follow up. A graduate of Hollins University, she lives in Henrico County with her husband and two daughters, one of whom is hard-of-hearing. **