Have you heard the term, Person Centered Services? You may have noticed it is our company byline. Weaving person centered services to result in meaningful lives filled with purpose, joy, and validation of interests, skills and values is of utmost importance to Thomas Allen, Inc. Employing persons who share that passion and offer initiative to implement person centered practices is essential!
If asked, most of us are able to quickly respond to what makes us happy in life. We know how it feels to pursue interests that we are passionate about and activities that fulfill us; opportunities that provide a sense of purpose and bring us joy. This is the measure of a person centered life.
How then, do we ensure a person centered life for persons with disabilities?
Some persons with disabilities are challenged with communicating. Many individuals have physical limitations; while others experience sensory, cognitive and/or social deficits that present added challenges to their lives.
Should we assume that they are unable to self-direct their choices? Should we make choices and decisions that we feel are best for them? No! Providing person centered services means that we are actively engaging each person, to the degree they are capable of and desire to be, with making meaningful decisions that affect their day, and their life.
What does this look like? How do we accomplish this, especially when there is such a wide range of abilities, there are unique interests, and we work with multiple people within one home or employment setting. Let’s look closer at this, and list out three specific methods to implement person centered services.
1. Focus on Ability
Often in life, we make assumptions. We sometimes base our perception of someone’s capabilities, based upon communication style. We make quick first impressions after hearing someone speak – based on tone, inflection, language, volume, articulation, accent and many other variables. We are human. Our experiences frequently influence our thoughts.
Other times, our perception is based upon physical aspects. Reliance on a wheelchair alone influences some of our perceptions about others abilities. Instead, remaining mindful that each person is unique, and like all of us, is a multi-faceted individual. It can be great fun to learn more about who each person is, and cooperatively participate in the achievement of goals and dreams that offer fulfillment.
Focusing on their abilities gives us license to slow down! Look in their eyes for acknowledgement of your question. Provide the time to listen; it may be that the person has a slower processing speed, and/or needs more time for word find or articulation. Or, it may be that no one has listened in the past, so they gave up trying long ago.
Entire semesters are devoted to teaching the nuances of interpersonal communication, and the countless types of non-verbal communication that we all express daily – even those of us who are verbal and capable of using words as our method of communication.
Be creative! Look for other individualized manners of communication unique to that person.
2. Do Some Research
We have been cultured since grade school to do thorough research when we have need to learn more. We are schooled on fact based research versus opinions or assumptions. Additionally, we are taught to research from different perspectives for the most valid outcome. What does this have to do with providing person centered services?
This is one of many fun tasks within our jobs! The social services industry is ripe with volumes of assessments, social histories, progress reviews and service plans. Typically they are archived after the current licensing year. Dig through those histories and old school records. We can use this information to learn as much as possible! It is amazing what we can find when we actively seek it.
What do journalists do to learn more about a person? They interview them! At Thomas Allen, we use a Person Centered Planning Tool that we have refined over the years, but it has been actively used for over two decades throughout our company. This tool is one part of our process for asking each person about what is most important to and for them. We dig into their interests, goals and dreams.
Another aspect to the person centered interview process is reaching out to other persons the individual is close to, and have some history with the person. They may have additional insights into preferences, past interests, and other meaningful information.
Person Centered Services is taking that extra step to tailor services for each individual.
3. Offer Exposure and Opportunity
Society is comprised of diverse demographics. Within that diversity are countless differences in values, experiences, opportunities – and lack of each – depending on our walk in life and our upbringing. This is no different among the disability population. In fact, many persons with disabilities likely have had less opportunities in life to experience things many of us take for granted.
How does this apply to person centered services? Many middle aged and elderly persons with disabilities grew up in State Hospitals and other large congregate Intermediate Care Facilities (ICF). Person centered approaches were not typically available. Exposure to community integration, recreational sports, culture and more were typically not accessible in that environment.
The older individuals we work with may or may not have had opportunity to play sports, to explore a musical interest, to take an art or ceramics class, to try yoga or experiment with painting. When we ask if they have interest in various things we suggest – they may say no, merely because they have no idea! They have never tried it.
One initiative that was implemented at Thomas Allen three years ago was the development of “Clubs” with the intent to provide opportunity for exposure to new experiences, and development of new friendships. A few examples included a Pen Pal Exchange, a Walking Club, Crafts Club, Volunteer Club, Be Fit Club, and Dining Out Club. Some of these clubs continue today, and new experiences and friends have resulted.
Another area offering increased opportunities has been through travel. Many persons served have become seasoned travelers, some are international travelers, and all have found their lives enriched by their travels. Most had minimal to no prior travel experience – and discoverd that traveling is now of great importance to them!
It is all about exposure and opportunity! Strive to provide unique experiences!
These three suggestions for methods to support incorporating person centered services into daily life are important. Yet, they are just a small essence of what it really means to provide services that focus on each person. They represent a glimpse into what it can look like to put effort into knowing a person, and then putting forth action to help build a life of purpose, meaning and joy.
To learn more about person centered thinking, planning and services, there are numerous resources available online and in your local library. One resource to get you started can be found in this consolidated Resource List on Person Centered Planning. Published by Allen Shea & Associates (ASA), it includes the publication name, organization/author, and includes the address/contact information.
Another key resource is the Minnesota Department of Human Services. They have a wealth of information and resources on person centered thinking and planning on their website.
It is our goal to provide person centered services that align with each person’s unique interests and talents, thereby living a meaningful life of purpose and joy!
We are Hiring
We are seeking committed personnel who are passionate about helping persons with disabilities to lead enriched lives. If interested in learning more, click here!