Cerebral Palsy Research Network Blog

The importance of facilitating empathic and meaningful clinical encounters

Veronica Schiariti, MD, MHSc, PhD

Dr. Verónica Schiariti, a developmental pediatrician at the University of Victoria, in Canada, led the development of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) guidelines for children and youth with cerebral palsy (CP). In a guest blog for the CP Research Network, she examines why ICF is so important for our community…

What does health mean to you?

For children with cerebral palsy being healthy means being able to participate in different activities with their peers, playing, enjoying the moment, being appreciated for who they are, regardless of their physical differences.

Twenty years ago, the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, (ICF) was created by the World Health Organization to encourage the identification of strengths and functional goals of every person and the planning of interventions accordingly.

Importantly, the ICF incorporates the fundamental human rights of persons with disabilities, and the principles of an international treaty, the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The ICF provides a valuable reference for monitoring aspects of children’s rights, as well as for national and international policy formulation.

For me, the ICF allows us to describe health in a more concrete way, what a person with a health condition can or is able to do every day, and, most importantly, the environment that helps or hinders the person’s ability to function every day.

As a child health researcher and disability advocate, I have created different educational tools to promote the adoption of the ICF in research and clinical practice. The ICF Educational e-tool illustrates how to apply the ICF into day-to-day practice and MY ABILITIES FIRST is a series of animations giving patients the autonomy to create an ability identification card to describe their abilities from their perspective.

I hope persons with disabilities, their families, and professionals working with people with disabilities, continue to adopt the ICF and ICF-based tools to improve communication, service provision, and ultimately facilitate empathic and meaningful clinical encounters.

During my years working with children with CP, I have learned that they celebrate their abilities and do not concentrate on limitations, not nearly as much as health professionals do. This must change. 

About the author: Dr. Verónica Schiariti MD MHSc PhD is a physician-scientist whose work bridges clinical research and international child health.

Dr. Schiariti led the development of the ICF Core Sets for children and youth with CP in collaboration with the ICF Research Branch in Switzerland. A pediatric international ICF scholar, she is helping to implement the ICF Core Sets for children and youth with CP in different countries.