A question I am often asked since leaving the Army to support people with learning disabilities has been “I suppose getting involved in this work has helped you support your daughter, Bettina with her care?” I remember being asked this question by a fellow Area Manager when we met up for lunch some years ago. I found myself saying “actually it is the other way around.” What I learned from Bettina, especially leading up to leaving the Army, helped the transition into my second career, and Bettina is still coaching me.
When I came into this career I had so many ideas. Mechanisms Bettina had shown me that worked for her, I knew could (possibly) make a difference for the people I would support. My first position was as a Team Leader supporting people to be involved in their local community for the first time in their lives. I was about to find out if they worked – after all, my only training was that I had been one of Bettina’s carers for 9 years and observing Bettina’s Whisperer.
I could possibly fill a book with things Bettina has shown that work for her and makes a difference in her life as she progresses on a daily basis, especially after a difficult start in life which meant coming to terms with her learning disabilities and autism. However, for this piece I am sharing five lessons that help her with life and five extra ones that help me support people with autism – and one big message!
Bettina’s 5 lessons for supporting people with learning disabilities
- Take the time to listen – show that you are listening and take your time. Bettina will know if you are not as she will be looking at your body language and especially your face.
- You need to show that you are confident – again starting with your body language, are you relaxed, are you smiling? Bettina judges tone of voice e.g. if you are softly spoken and speak in a calm manner you will quickly gain her confidence
- Everything about you must be positive – nobody follows someone who is negative. Attitude is everything.
- Demonstrate that you care and that you have an unconditional regard for a person. You do this by being non judgemental nor impose your values and standards. In Bettina’s case she has her own and it is important to respect these.
- Be consistent with how you present yourself throughout the day and every day. You are not just confident, positive, humorous and enthusiastic when it suits you – you need a 100% commitment everyday. (There are no days off for Bettina and her learning disability – the shift never finishes for her).
Bettina’s 5 lessons for supporting people with Autism
- How you see the world (if you are not autistic) is completely different to how a person with Autism does – learn to see the world through the eyes of the person you support. When you do, the person you are involved with will trust you to do the right thing for them.
- Support a person through the rituals and habits which works for them, and not be judgemental because they are different from yours.
- Do things on their terms not yours, where it is safe to do so. You are not in control. This is their life and they should have the control. One of the first things we learned as parents for Bettina was that we could not instigate eye contact When we did she would become distressed. Eye contact has to be on her terms.
- See the person first, not their disability. Bettina has a unique personality that is there with or without her autism. I have found the same for everyone I have supported.
- The sights and sounds Bettina’s experiences are different to those you see and hear. Discovering this with Bettina made me more sensitive to what a person feels and hears (Bettina gets upset if someone she loves coughs for instance – much to the envy of my wife, I can make a cough sound like a sneeze!)
So I turned up on my first day with a plan – I wanted the people I supported to
- have fun
- feel confident
- feel they had someone on their side
- feel they were control
- feel valued by those around them and their community
These continue to be my 5 objectives.
And the 1 Big Messages I promised you?
I have written about what Bettina has taught me, and what I wanted to do for the people I support, but as you look at each set of lessons and finally my objectives, what is the difference between people with learning disabilities, autism and you and the people who are part of your life? What Bettina has taught me, and continues to teach me everyday, is that what works for her can work for us all in both our personal and professional relationships.
Source: Steve Raw www.leadershipintheraw.org