Improving Community Supports

Everyday courtesies that will overall improve supports.

It’s easy to find situations in the community that are unique to people with developmental and or intellectual disabilities. When I worked in the direct support field, people would often ask me what was wrong with the men and women I supported. They never asked the people I was with, just me. This doesn’t seem to be something that happens to people without intellectual or developmental disabilities. I have managed to concoct several explanations for this kind of behavior, and while I don’t think people were trying to be malicious or rude, they certainly weren’t interested in the wellbeing of the people they were talking about.

There are several things, simple, everyday courtesies, that we can use when we interact with people with intellectual or developmental disabilities that I think will improve everyone’s chances of being supportive and supported.

Don’t talk about people as though they are not there. Even if the person you are talking to cannot hear you, understand you, or speak back, it is always important to address them as though they can. It is a natural tendency to look at the person talking to us, but when speaking to an interpreter, we should always look at the person we’re actually talking to, and never say something like “Will you tell him…?” or “What did People talking at a coffee shophe say?”

Don’t talk to people who are adults as though they are children. Use an age appropriate voice for anyone you talk to, no matter what you think they can or cannot understand. Avoid childish phrases, like “Did you do that all by yourself?”

Hold people to honest and meaningful expectations. You will not do anyone any favors by expecting them to do things poorly. Part of learning is having realistic expectations, and meaningful and accurate feedback. I have seen DSPs get bored while someone is working and say “That’s good enough. Let’s go,” when really they should encourage the person they are supporting to finish the task regardless of how long it takes.

Encourage appropriate social interactions. Sometimes people say things that are not appropriate, and DSPs give them “a pass” because they feel as though they don’t know any better, or won’t learn anyway. Maybe people lower expectations because they think people with intellectual and developmental disabilities like things that are inappropriate. We must recognize the negative impact these socially inappropriate actions have on people. More examples can be seen here.

As supports and technologies improve, we will find ourselves with more opportunities to either be positive supports for people or negative supports. When in doubt, treat people the way you would want to be treated, and don’t expect anything in return. If positive community supports continue, everyone will have a better chance of positive interactions.

Drew JohnsonDrew Johnson

Director of Training and Development

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