Thursday, March 26, 2015

Population Spotlight: Adults with Developmental Disabilities

My wonderful camp friends! 

Have you ever worked with adults with developmental or cognitive disabilities? Maybe you have a friend or a family member who fits into this population? Maybe you are wary of close contact with this population? 

Daniel and I at the fishing dock!

Working with adults with developmental and cognitive disabilities can be scary, nerve-racking, enlightening, and life changing all at the same time. 

Daniel and I after Wacky Olympics

As many of you have read, I have been very involved with this population over the last five years through Camp Blue Skies Foundation, a camp for adults with developmental disabilities. I also focused my honors undergraduate thesis research on college students attitudes and perceptions towards this population. 

Based on my experience, here are some pointers and advice you can apply when working with this incredible population: 

1. Be direct. 
Say what you want to say. Do not use euphemisms, sarcasm, or fancy language. Just say what you want to say. This helps them to connect body language and verbal communication. Oftentimes adults with developmental disabilities have a difficult time reading social cues, therefore it is best to be direct with them. This does not mean being rude, just direct. This type of communication can be difficult and uncomfortable for the average person because we shy away from confrontation frequently in daily life. Some examples might include: "I am uncomfortable with hugging. Next time let's stick to a high five." Or "You are sitting very close to me, and it makes me feel uncomfortable. Would you mind scooting over some?" Learning how to communicate this way will also probably benefit you tremendously in other areas of your life! 

2. Be real. 
I think the biggest thing that people forget is that people with disabilities are people too. They have favorite movies, favorite foods, and favorite activities. They have opinions about everything, just like you. So, be real with them. Get to know them. Ask them about their story. I promise you, it will be an enlightening experience. But you must also be willing to open up about yourself and be vulnerable. They want friends just like you do. They want to feel "normal." Just remember that the term normal is overrated and there is no decisive definition of it. Some of my favorite memories from the week include having dance parties in the cabin to Taylor Swift, One Direction, and of course, Frozen. Don't tell me you haven't done this with your friends... because we all do. :) 

3. Be informed. 
Get to know about various disabilities. What are the most common? Autism, Down Syndrome, Williams Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Intellectual Impairment, etc. What do you know about these disorders? What are some of the most common characteristics of these? Don't be afraid to ask questions. A lot of times when you start having conversations, your mind will be blown at the honesty and openness of this population to explain to you how they understand their disability. Just remember to check your sources and make sure they are reliable. 
Check out these sites for more accurate details. 

4. Be Involved.
Don't be afraid to volunteer. Don't be afraid to engage in conversations with adults with disabilities in public places. Don't miss out on an opportunity to grow and be blessed by another individual just because they look different from you. Go out of your way to gain experience with all populations of people including but not limited to different ethnic populations, socioeconomic status, medical conditions, disabilities, different geographic regions, and international status. Each experience will allow you to grow as a child life specialist, but more importantly as a human being. 

5. Be Intentional.
**Don't underestimate this population. We often have this mindset that they can't do everything or we mistake slowness as an inability to perform the task. Let them try the task first, even if you have to wait a few minutes longer than if you were to perform it for them. This avoids the concept referred to as "learned helplessness." If you set high standards for them, they have the great capability to rise to the occasion. This also helps them to become more independent in a world that wants to force them to be dependent. That being said, if they are obviously struggling or you know that they physically are incapable of performing a task, help them. But instead of just rushing in and doing it for them, ask if they would like your help or find a different way for them to accomplish the task on their own. How would you feel if someone just barged in and did something for you without asking for your help first? They are adults, first and foremost, and should be treated as such. Also, don't underestimate their intelligence. I've had the opinion for a while now that intelligence is more than an IQ test. Intelligence comes in many forms, sometimes all we need is a little patience to let it reveal itself. 

**Additional comments by Claire Goodwin, Doctorate Student of Physical Therapy at University of North Georgia; B.S.K. double major in Athletic Training and Exercise Science and Honors graduate from Georgia Southern University; Sister of a brother with Cerebral Palsy

Georgia Southern Alumnus L to R: Caroline, Claire Goodwin, Brian Pritchard, Wes Imundo, Kalon Carpenter, Emily Rogers

Below are some quotes from Camp Blue Skies: 


“Dear Dick and Staff of Camp Blue Skies, Thank you so much for an absolutely wonderful mind blowing experience at camp!!!  I’m so looking forward to next year sign me up. You helped me to step out of my comfort zone and experience an extreme ride called  the Giant swing. I have never in my life had the guts to do it….” - 2010 Camper
“…..Our son matured and experienced challenges that his overly protective mother had never given him.  Even his speech is clearer.  I am just amazed.  He seems to have a new found confidence and enthusiasm about life in general and camp, specifically….” - 2010 Parent
“…We are still trying to digest our collective experience from last week, and in brief it was one of the most rewarding experiences we’ve ever had……. It was such a privilege to get to know these wonderful and special campers who each had their own unique personalities. I loved the fact that so many of the stereotypes that one associates with mentally challenged individuals was totally shattered. I will never forget the amazing warmth and caring of campers….” - 2010 Volunteers

Georgia Southern University students and Alumni
What experience do you have with this population? Which population would you like us to spotlight next? 



Anonymous said...

I have never thought much about this population, but your post has inspired me to look into it more! If you know anything about the deaf/mute community, I would love to hear some about them! I am about to start learning sign language and want to go on to speech-pathology school after undergrad -Anna Marsh

Child Life Blog said...

I'm so excited you're inspired! It's definitely a population I did not think much about until Camp Blue Skies.
I actually have a few friends who are deaf, so I might put a bug in their ear about a guest post!!!

Unknown said...

I love this! I spent my last summer at Camp Barnabas, which caters to both children and adults with disabilities; physically and developmentally. I am AMAZED at this population and joy, determination, compassion, and life they bring to the world. They each taught me so much about life and just finding joy in everyday things. This amazing population has so much to give and teach to anyone willing to take time to find it for sure.

Child Life Blog said...

Alyssa, I am so glad you have found the joy in working with these populations! It's true that we walk away learning more than probably they do!