Agencies that support people with intellectual disabilities usually make a plan with each person with whom they’re involved. These plans detail how the person would like the agency to be involved with them: what sort of skills the person would like to learn, what the person feels he/she needs assistance from agency workers to do each day, and what the person’s goals are in general. These plans are vitally important. People have the right to decide what kind of supports that they most want or need.
Intellectual Disabilities: Those Old Assumptions…
It’s easy enough to assume that when someone is doing something that isn’t having the desired result, that they *want* advice on how to do it right. I find that in settings where adults with intellectual disabilities in particular gather together, such as day support programs, this sort of advice often comes across …and is given whether the person wants it or not.
It’s natural to want to coach on something on something like social skills or even hygiene skills (and, working with people with intellectual disabilities, opportunities for these kinds of coaching do come up with people…but they also come up with people I encounter just hanging out in my favourite restaurant, too, and this is my point.) What if the person (in either example) hasn’t indicated that they want coaching on that? Doesn’t it then just become rude?
Following Support Plans Makes Support More About People and Less About Us
With people with intellectual disabilities, it doesn’t seem to be as often regarded as rude, even by agency staff people. Not only is the coaching given, but it can often come across as as heavy-handed and condescending. I’ve seen this in several agencies, and it bothers me – and not just because I know that I’ve been guilty of it myself. It’s because there’s an implication that staff people are somehow better, that they can:
1. Decide what a person needs and doesn’t need, regardless of the person’s feelings on the subject.
2. Be higher in power and status than the people they support
I don’t think that staff in agencies do this consciously – I know I didn’t – but I think we really need to at all times do our best to cultivate an atmosphere in agencies that work with people with intellectual disabilities where everyone is at first an equal, and where the people supported are treated the same as anyone on the street would be. Having clear support plans may help set the support boundaries that help to do that they leave less room for us to decide what we *think* people need and more energy for us to work with people on the things that they’d like to work on.