It is in the very nature of being human that we each have gifts to share that can enrich the lives of others. And whether you are a parent, direct support professional, brother, sister or simply a good friend of someone who experiences a disability you know that this truth holds for everyone without being limited by any socially constructed definition or boundary that has been set up to label or divide humanity. In fact, it is in the very characteristic of the diversity of the human experience well outside of the limits represented by those who are neuro-typical or average that one can truly appreciate the depth, range and beauty of the human condition.
If we know this truth – that everyone has gifts to share – then it is both a moral responsibility and professional duty to help those that we support in discovering their gifts. This is so compelling that one would think that we would have figured this out as a prime directive by now. However, this responsibility has some barriers that are built in to our biases both culturally and systemically.
We Are Shy And Humble
It’s hard for us to acknowledge what it is in our own presentation to the world that is a gift to others. Particularly when we are having “bad days” our thoughts are consumed with responsibilities and tasks that need to get done. We’re distracted from a sense of kindness and gentleness to ourselves that really is warranted. Here’s one suggestion on how to correct this. Divide a piece of paper down the middle. At the top of each side write “good day” on one and “bad day” on the other. Now begin to write down a simple list of all of the elements that contribute to you having a good day. Start with at the very beginning. Are there certain things that set you off on the wrong track from the very start? Are there routines or rituals that help you feel centered? What are the things that you do to calm or comfort yourself? Now move to the other side of the page. What are the things that really rub you the wrong way? Start at the beginning again. What doesn’t work for you in the morning? What upsets your concentration or appreciation of the things that you love? Now that you’ve completed your two lists, go through the items and see how many you can increase the chances of (good day) and how many you can avoid or prevent the likelihood of (bad day). Then make a “to do” list to make those changes. Some you may be able to do on your own. Others may require taking the initiative to ask something from someone else. Ask yourself “How can others support me in my work in this way?”. Then share it. By the way, this same process should be used with everyone that you are assigned to support in your work. It’s an important part of creating One-Page Profiles ( http://www.helensandersonassociates.co.uk/person-centred-practice/one-page-profiles/ ). See if you can make tomorrow different. And remember, if you are a direct support professional, every day you are making the world a better place!
If we don’t take the time or give ourselves the permission to appreciate our own gifts then its next to impossible to go beyond ourselves and find the gifts in others. Take care of yourself first. Then, and not before then, you’ll be ready to take care of others.
Our Concept Of What Is A Gift Is Too Narrow
I have a co-worker who experiences cerebral palsy. He’s an official in the Vocational Rehabilitation agency. He uses a motorized wheelchair to get around and sometimes has an assistant ready to interpret for others what he is saying because he forms his words differently and people who are unfamiliar often don’t understand him right away. I recall a morning meeting once where he and I were present along with about four other people. Everyone had their large coffees and were pretty cranked up on the subject at hand. It was rapid fire and I remember having the distinct sense that the discussion was beginning to get circular. Then this co-worker gestured in a way that we recognized that he was about to speak. And he spoke. By necessity he has a certain economy in speaking because there is some effort in getting the words out. So he spoke…very…slowly…and deliberately. It allowed the rest of us to pause and…listen. He offered some good thoughts. But, more importantly, he offered us a gift. The gift of slowness. We re-assessed where our decision-making was leading us. We got back on track. Our meeting was better. Have you ever gotten behind someone in the supermarket line that was taking a long time and you couldn’t switch lines? Have you ever resolved to just take a breath, accept the situation and perhaps pay attention to something that’s beautiful around you now that you have the time; a baby’s smiling face, the funny conversation next to you, an interesting article on the magazine rack? You’ve just been served the gift of slowness.
I know someone who doesn’t use words to communicate, relies on a wheelchair, and has the assistance of a direct support staff person for regular care throughout the day. She’s has a quiet nature, loves kids, and enjoys time in the library. She’s also fortunate to have someone in a DSP who takes the discovery of gifts very seriously. She made plans with this person to play a role in story time at the library. While this person calmly holds the book open (she can do this with a very steady hand and for quite some time) the DSP reads to the kids and they turn the pages together. Together they are volunteering at the library to enrich the education of children. The kids are recipients of the gift of knowing that everyone can contribute and that “differentness” is actually OK and eventually isn’t so different.
The Stereotype Of Disability As Being “In Need”
Because of history and bias, people with disabilities are too often viewed as always being in need: of public dollars, of assistance, of care, of being “fixed”. This can only change if history changes and the role of offering to others, of being involved in reciprocal relationships where “I benefit from knowing you; you benefit from knowing me” is established and allowed to flourish. The good news is that once established and with regular, discreet encouragement and support, reciprocal relationships have the tendency to grow exponentially.
This is where the moral responsibility and professional duty comes into play. The prime directive becomes this: Our responsibility to those that we support is to help them discover their gifts and to find places where those gifts are appreciated!“ This means that we shatter the program-centric schedules of activities and adopt person-centered thinking approaches to be with people in those activities that shine a light on their gifts. That’s impossible to do if the gift that someone has is the effervescent, energetic personality where they want to smile and great as many people as possible in a given period of time and the schedule says that it’s group time at the library. It’s not possible if one’s gift is the joy of talking one-on-one about the troubles of the day and it’s group Bingo time. It’s not possible, so it has to stop.
If you have thoughts and ideas about this prime directive and you are on a journey to make it happen, what has it been like for you? You’re on a new path. It’s exciting. It’s challenging. Share your stories with others in the comment section below so that we can all learn and help to transform the lives of others.