Caring For Those With Developmental Disabilities

Society has its own perceptions of “normal”. Whether it’s how to dress, act or speak; there’s definitely a grand blueprint for us all. What about those of us who society has cast out or forgotten almost altogether? I’m not talking about those Goth kids who go out of their way to be different, or even the homeless guy who begs for change at your local convenient store. I’m talking those who have Developmental Disabilities.

Those individuals who suffer from Down’s Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy, and like ailments, are societies’ real diamonds in the rough. Out of my entire work life, I have worked several years with these genuine people. And I have never regretted a day spent with them. These are the people, yes PEOPLE, our society has tried to wash it’s hands of for hundreds of years. When I was just 15 years old, my mother scored a job at a local agency called, “ResCare”. At first I was intimidated by their presence, having always heard them being teased and hearing horror stories. I didn’t want to go visit my mom at work down the street out of fear they were ‘contagious’. But throughout the rest of my high school career and after, I got to really know them.

I learned how hard working, creative, smart, and talented each person was. I learned that most of them carried jobs, took care of themselves as much as they possibly could, and even got married. Although I made them my new friends and loved being around them, I still always told my mom I could never work in that field. When I was 20, I got desperate for work, and by then my mom had changed companies and been promoted to a hiring position. So I decided to swallow my pride and started working for “PRS of NM.” Just after a week, I knew I had found my calling.

Having a parent in management had its perk as I got to know the business inside and out. The amount of paperwork, services, caring and hours one individual needed was, and still is, astonishing! My title was ‘Direct Care Staff’ and one I wore proudly. Not everyone could, or can, do this job. Changing, feeding, bathing, and spending time with a full grown adult takes a lot of time and energy. Not to mention having to document everything they did. But the rewards outnumbered the downfalls.

So, after being in the business of caring for those with Developmental Disabilities for several years now, I have learned the Do’s and Don’ts as well as giving tips to new staff, or even families, caring for these individuals.

1. Always treat as you would treat any regular person.
Even if it SEEMS they cant understand you, see, hear, speak or how bad off they seem to be, they are PEOPLE first and foremost, and should be treated as such. Do you like it when someone mistreats or abuses you?

2. They CAN communicate.
As I have said above, although they can’t speak, hear, read or write, there is a way they can communicate if they are feeling bad, hungry, want attention or just about for anything. Most have a Speech Language Pathologist, or SLP, that can help determine how they do communicate if it’s through sounds and gestures, or adaptive equipment.

3. They aren’t all the same, even if they have the same conditions.
Some individuals might have a more severe case, or another condition that complicates their situation. If one person has mild schizophrenia, cerebral palsy, and GERD, and another just schizophrenia, the latter one may have more hallucinations or needs a different type of medication.

4. Regard age appropriateness.
If you’re treating them like as normal person, would you buy a ‘normal’ 25 year old a coloring book of Dora the Explorer? Even if they can’t do Sudoku and crossword puzzles, buy them instead a workbook that are able to do and could help them learn and grow in independence.

5. Help them, but don’t hinder them.
People usually want to be as independent as possible, and they are no different. If you know that they can do something on their own, instead of just doing for them to make it go faster, encourage them to do it for themselves as SAFELY as possible. By doing things for them all the time, even when you know they are able to, you prevent them from achieving that same independence.

7. Be patient.
Rushing them to do certain things can cause unsafe and unhelpful things to happen. Their safety should be your number one priority.

8. Use adaptive equipment when you can!
If they need to use a gaitbelt, coated spoon, and a walker, use them! They are there for a reason, if it’s for safety or to help them to do things.

9. Have fun with them!
Every person that I have either worked with, or have had the pleasure of knowing has their own personality and sense of humor. So do the things that they like to do, and laugh and grow with them. After awhile, you may not even see it as a job!

These people are the most genuine people you will ever meet. They tell you like it is, comfort you, and are by far more caring than any ‘normal’ person I have ever come across.