'If it ain't broke don't fix it?' it's an old saying often used to justify avoiding change, or breaking with a tradition. But sometimes breaking a tradition or habit is exactly what we need to grow or improve our situation.
The traditions I'm talking about are very personal and individual, unlike the cultural, religious or even family traditions that we are familiar with personal traditions are about who we are, what we value and how we like to do things. Also unlike those other traditions where change occurs as a shared experience with many people, personal traditions are rarely shared and are often a lonely experience.
Starting NQ Enable has been my break with tradition. This came about after many years working within the same organisation, were I had become familiar with the people, the routines, and the rules. Having to leave was unsettling and it became even more difficult when I had to make the decision to do something different.
It has taken months to find my feet again, and I'm still a way off from feeling comfortable with the change, and there will be more challenges to come, I'm sure. However, even getting to this point has had an affect on those around me; having to deal with mood swings, withdrawal and anger, apathy and even avoidance of those things I enjoy. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, spoke about this as the stages of grief and grieving; this is a natural process that cycles through until the change is fully accepted.
What, may you ask, has this to do with supporting people with disabilities? Well, quite simply, irrespective of how difficult my experience was, I have skills, resources and capacity to manage change, and to engage with the grief and loss. So, when I began reflecting on how I would feel if I was more dependent on others on a daily, sometimes hourly basis for the basics of day to day living and then dealing with that change. Wow, I had some thinking to do!
For a person with a disability, day to day living supports are as personal as it can get, with any change having an impact that can not be underestimated. The smallest change can have a seismic impact on all areas of life, even the smallest changes can mean a persons traditions can be altered enough resulting in grief and loss. Am I kidding, I'll give you a real life example:
Some years ago, I was supporting Kat, an older lady who was moving out of an institution, where she had lived in the same unit with the same people for the majority of her life. Kat has complex disability diagnosis; clinically blind, although she could distinguish shapes in high contrast light situations, and 'high level / low functioning' Autism. So, as you can imaging her life was challenging enough.
Kat loved her shoes, 'kung-foo' shoes as we called them, black and one size too small, she never wore anything else. After she moved, one of her new staff decided to ignore her tradition and replaced her old shoes with new ones in the right size. Even though they were black and the same in every other respect, Kat knew.
Unsurprisingly over the next few days all hell broke loose; with damage to everything in sight, including herself and support staff. She was obviously traumatised but could not tell us directly what was wrong, and so it wasn't until the staff member responsible confessed that we were able to resolve the situation.
When asked why the staff member had made that decision to replace the shoes the response was, 'the small shoes caused her blisters and she had difficulty walking.'
Although a legitimate and rational reason, and arguably driven by good intentions and a duty of care, it ignored Kat's traditions and her situation. Kat could cope with all the other changes in her life, but messing with her shoes was last straw!
This is a dramatic story, however it is still so very common, and I have many other stories which have similar themes. Support staff, are a blessing and a curse for many people needing personal care or support in areas of their life. Support workers are human and bring their own skills, knowledge and 'values' with them. So often these good and caring 'values', that bring support workers into the business of caring. However, no matter how altruistic or justifiable the workers values, they can cause great harm to those we support.
There are no easy answers to how we can be better carers and support workers, or how to check our values in at the door. However, in the near future, I will be offering short workshops on a range of topics including 'Values Based Support'.
So, until then 'Don't mess with the shoes!'