Nov 02, 2012 0 Share

Helping the Helpers

Illustration of word "Help" with raised hand.

It was a feeling of euphoria when Cody finally came off the waiting list for services. I felt relieved in such a profound way. But reality soon made itself known.

It’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking that everything is just going to be so much better now that you have the services you have waited for, for so long. While it is a step in the right direction, there are many things which surround this event which may set you up for disappointment and disillusionment if you do not look upon it with an objective eye.

Whether your family member receives day hab services like Cody or services from a behavioral facility, you and your family must consider exactly what you will be getting. Who will be coming to work in your home, or who will be working with you at your chosen facility?

In the world of behavioral and social services, many times the people employed are often young men and women enrolled in psychology or social services programs in colleges and universities. They come to such service providers to seek internships, practicums and employment to gain hands-on knowledge and experience in their fields of study. And often they step into a world where—although they are dealing with individuals they wish to help—cognitive and/or behavioral issues are more complicated than they expected. Many times they find themselves facing the challenges of such conditions which they have only read about in research papers and textbooks, and quickly feel in over their heads.

Such predicaments as this lead to a period of time where they must blindly find their way back to self-confidence and self-assurance. Action plans can be clearly outlined on paper and if said plans were to be implemented with neurotypical people, then all would make perfect sense. But it is not always so cut and dried with individuals who have ASD.

New behavioral health and occupational techs often find themselves taken aback by the very behaviors they are supposed to help manage. The fact is, sometimes it is quite awkward for even the most skilled caregivers to deal with being in a restaurant and having to redirect our loved ones on the spectrum when they are doing things like twirling their silverware because it gives them an escape from the noise of other patrons talking, laughing, young children crying and forks and knives striking and screeching across the surface of a plate. Or when we must accompany an adult individual with ASD to the restroom and prompt them not to drop their trousers to the floor while standing at the urinal. Perhaps they need to distract our guys and gals with autism from the triggers of a crowded store—because if they don’t, a meltdown will surely ensue. But imagine being a twenty-something college student who has never encountered these behaviors before from an adult on the spectrum. A little daunting isn’t it?

As a family, you must also face the fact that for many new technicians, this job is only a stepping stone. They’re looking to gain a foundation for a path that will lead to career advancement. So chances are, they may not be around that long. Anticipate many staff changes to come. In most cases it is just a given it will happen.

Almost every technician has had similar questions of me. “What do you want me to today to keep him engaged? How do you know when he’s getting upset or agitated? What should I do when I’m working with him on life skills and he’s totally disinterested?” You simply have to explain answers to these kinds of questions with a direct, matter-of-fact attitude. If possible, spend time helping that staff get to know you or your loved one so that he can be well equipped to handle any turbulent situation that might arise. Remember that although staff are professionals, you are the expert on your family member!