Doctors are being urged to do more to collaborate with families of children with developmental disabilities as they face decisions about diagnosis, treatment and supports.

New guidance issued this week from the American Academy of Pediatrics indicates that physicians should employ a process known as shared decision-making when working with kids who have intellectual, physical or neurodevelopmental conditions.

“Often in the discussion of treatment plans, there are gaps between the child’s/family’s values, priorities and understanding of perceived ‘best choices’ and those of the clinician,” reads the clinical report published in the June issue of the journal Pediatrics. “When conducted well, (shared decision-making) affords an appropriate balance incorporating voices of all stakeholders, ultimately supporting both the child/family and clinician.”

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The guidance encourages pediatricians to make sure that information is “exchanged in both directions,” that everyone involved understands what treatment options are available and that each party’s values and priorities are taken into account.

Doctors should regularly employ shared decision-making practices when helping families of children with disabilities make assessments about diagnosis, evaluation, treatment, care management and support services, according to the report, so that a framework is in place if more significant or critical situations arise.

Children ought to be involved in discussions about their care in a manner that’s appropriate for their developmental level, the pediatrics group said.

“With increasing knowledge of and functional use of (shared decision-making) skills, the clinician will become an effective partner in the decision-making process with families, providing family-centered care,” the guidance states. “The outcome of the process will support the beneficence of the physician, the authority of the family and the autonomy and well-being of the child.”

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