The Dangers of Caring in Developmental Disabilities Services
Support individuals to live a fulfilling life.
Everyone who has worked with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for any length of time will have endured a constant onslaught of “you must be so patient” or “you must be a very special person…” Some of us have even started to believe it. We are not, and should not be in this field because we think we’re special or more patient than everyone else. It also sends the message that the people that we work with annoy and constantly test nerves. The people who do believe this have chosen to stay in the field because their identity and self-worth is wrapped-up in being that caring, patient, loving person.
Caring about a person is not enough, and often gets in the way of that person’s success. Caring makes it hard to watch someone struggle to get dressed, put a plate in a sink, or attempt to get a bite of food in her/his mouth. The caring person must stop this torture to prove they do in fact care. The caring person shoves spoonfuls of food into their victim’s mouth. The caring person takes the plate, puts it in the sink and washes it. The caring person also sees it as his/her job to decide adequate portions. The caring person needs to continue this relationship in order to be needed. If the person supported was to become independent, the self-worth of the caring person would fall apart and their identity would be shattered.
What is needed in this field (DD services) and others is the support professional. A support professional is someone who is not only interested in the food getting to the person supported or the plate getting into the sink, but in helping people develop the skills so the care-taker is not needed. We should all strive to be as insignificant to the people we support as possible. We should not be their friends, cooks, maids, chauffeurs, etc… We should support people to make their own friends, cook their own meals, hire their own maids, etc…
At ILC, a large portion of our training focuses on changing the caring mindset and focusing on what is actually needed to help those in services be successful, and hopefully not need us anymore. The best, most ethical thing we can do, is not be needed longer than necessary.