Friday, December 7, 2012

Scrambled or Fried?

Empower.  This word means different things but to Wendell Foster’s Campus (WFC), it means we promote the “self-actualization or influence of” the individuals we serve with developmental disabilities.

Imagine you have been stricken with a bizarre disease that causes you two weeks of paralysis.  You cannot move any part of your body, and you cannot speak. You are completely reliant on someone else to see to your needs; now, think about what is important for you.  Maybe it is that you’re kept safe, your health issues are addressed, and for survival purposes, you are properly fed.  What is important to you?  In other words, what helps you feel satisfied or fulfilled?  What makes you comfortable or happy?  Perhaps you enjoy fresh air and being outdoors.  Perhaps you like to wake up late in the morning, have a cup of coffee with your newspaper, then enjoy a breakfast of fried eggs, over easy, and ease into starting your day.  This routine is a comfortable and leaves you content as you start the day.

Okay, now, you have this disease and someone will take care of you for two weeks while you are totally paralyzed.  He or she ensures that what is important for you is in place:  you’re kept safe from harm; you are fed three times a day; and you get whatever medications you need to see this condition through to its end.  But what about what’s important to you?  The person taking care of you wakes you up at the crack of chickens, hollering in a fake chipper voice, “Rise and shine!”  Then you are pulled out of bed and plopped into a chair in front of a TV where you remain for the balance of your entire day; one spot, inside, all day, because frankly, there are other people with the same disease your caretaker has to take care of as well.  You are given your medications with orange juice (because it’s “healthier for you”), and fed a breakfast of runny scrambled eggs before you get your newspaper.  Oh, the newspaper, the subscription for which you paid, is in the other room in a shambles because your caretaker was scouring it for extra coupons.

Is this person caring for you taking into consideration of what is important for you?  You are safe in a chair out of harm’s way.  You received your medications for the day and breakfast too.  Did the person consider what is important to you? 

The problem with this scenario is no one asked you before or even after the paralyzing disease took hold “what is important to you.” 

No one asked you how you like your eggs, or what you like to drink with breakfast; and while your caretaker enjoys Judge Judy and Montel, s/he did not bother asking you if you did before leaving you in front of the TV to watch all day. Given you are paralyzed, you cannot hold the newspaper anyway, so it is no big deal she rummaged through it to get that extra coupon for the Macy’s sale and clip out a recipe she wants to try. Yet, what is important to you is what time you get up in the morning, that you have your caffeine, catch up on the latest news and ease into your day with a walk and fresh air.  What is important to you was not important enough to your caretaker to bother asking you; or even to give you some choices you could in some subtle way clue her in on about what makes you happy and fulfilled.

Wendell Foster’s Campus and its staff focuses our efforts to better understand what is important to the individuals we serve, by finding out from them and their loved ones what makes them happy and fulfilled.  Focusing on each individual, not only what important is for him or her (service centered) but also what is important to him or her (person-centered) allows the potential for the individual to live a greater quality of life.  This task challenges our staff, especially when those we serve cannot verbally communicate with us their interests and personal desires.  Sometimes, we even have to surmise personality traits based on history and guess until we get it right.   Together with concerted effort, diligent attention to the subtleties of body language, good ole-fashioned trial and error, and a commitment to see this discovery process through with energy, time and resources, we have figured it out and are seeing results.  Historically, WFC has done a great job of meeting each individual’s needs; however, staff is now more consciously exploring what uniquely is important to him or her, even if these things are not easily communicated.
Case in point:  Brad.  The staff in Centre Pointe’s Cottage C started this very process over a year ago.  They quickly learned it takes time, focused energy, and a commitment to placing what is important to the individual first.  Once they figured this out, the results were amazing and even surprising to everyone who knows Brad.

In the Next Blog Entry:  Hear Me When I Can't Speak - "When troubled or restless, Brad would express his frustration by pacing constantly, make vocalization sounds. . . . . Brad is not the same man he was over a year earlier."

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