Employee Tip - Helping Members Take the Next Step
Before helping others with the things they want to do in life, we often need to first look at ourselves. One part of Mainstream Living’s mission is “fulfilling dreams”, and although this statement is short, it can be one of the most challenging aspects of our line of work. Before helping a member work towards fulfilling a dream, it is important to think about our own dreams, and the path we have taken in pursuit of them. Talk to any honest person, and they will tell you that as they’ve aged, some of their dreams have undergone slight revisions or even drastic changes. In serious pursuit of something big, new, or exciting, there will always be change and compromise. But this change rarely comes without numerous attempts and failures, struggles, and disappointment. However, anyone who feels like they have reached a dream will usually tell you it was worth it.
When we understand our own experience, it can provide some clarity in how to support others in pursuing their dreams. Each of the individuals we serve has dreams, even those with severe and profound disabilities, or severe mental health concerns. Some members are highly vocal about their dreams, while others may be reluctant, or even ashamed to admit their dreams. Regardless of where person is in the process of knowing and realizing their dreams, it is almost always our role as services providers to encourage members to try. Though it may be impractical or unrealistic, it is important that people are given an opportunity. Think about how it would feel if a person in a supportive role told you that your dream was too difficult or unrealistic. Most would feel very discouraged. Now think about this, coupled with all of the pressures facing someone with a disability, who has likely faced this mentality in most arenas of life at some point or another. A dream may be unrealistic, but instead of pointing out the impracticalities, staff can take action in a more productive way.
Our role is to help members take the next step. For example, somebody receiving 24-hour supervision may have a dream of someday living on their own without staff. You may think this will be not possible, but rather than saying this, help the member take the next step. Discuss what they might do that would potentially lead to more independence, and help the member learn how to do laundry, keep a clean living environment, or cook independently. Most people, staff included, are often surprised at everything members can do if only encouraged to take that next step.
It may be that attempting this next step, however, proves what you thought- that the goal was unrealistic. There are two things to keep in mind here: the first is that it is not time to reevaluate goals until the member is ready. Just because you may recognize something is a failure doesn’t mean that the member has come to this realization. Encourage the member to continue taking the next step as many times as is necessary. Again, you may be surprised at what one is able to accomplish with persistence. If the member, however, needs to reassess the goal, be supportive while making it more practical. Maybe the member could pursue having a few hours of alone time in the community, or try to achieve independence on specific tasks. When this reassessment takes place, you can continue to help the member take next steps, reassess, and see what dreams lie ahead.