An Alternative to Restraint and Seclusion was Born in Virginia and It’s Spreading

*This piece originally aired on Virginia Public Media.

Andie Plumley works with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She says she learned early that things can sometimes get physical.

“My second day of work here, I got punched in the face,” said Plumley.

Why did this happen? Plumley says the aggression was a form of communication for a man who was non-verbal.

Plumley is Vice President of Support Services of Virginia, a 25 year old Virginia company that provides residential and day services to people with disabilities in Virginia Beach, Lynchburg and Danville.

SSVA doesn’t use any form of physical restraint or seclusion to manage aggressive or self-injurious behavior.

At SSVA in Virginia Beach, Plumley demonstrated how they use a special foam shield to avoid injury.  The sky blue shields have handles on the backside, and Plumley explained how to hold them overhead or down low, depending on which part of your body you need to protect.

Kay Reed Mirick was SSVA’s founder and Plumley’s mentor. Mirick developed a philosophy and approach to serving populations with disabilities called “Positive Practices.”

Mirick, who died in 2005, didn’t believe that staff “needed to put hands on people.”

“People were going to communicate what they needed and if we responded to that, things would be copacetic,” said Plumley.

One key element of Positive Practices is to give a lot of attention to positive behaviors so that these behaviors increase. It’s not a religious doctrine, but it definitely has a spiritual tone. Plumley says at SSVA, which does not operate any schools, the staff works on “building people up” by treating everyone with unconditional positive regard.

“I’m gonna tell you how much I enjoy spending time with you and mean it and help to build up that self esteem and give you that positive unconditional regard that you deserve as a human being on this planet,” said Plumley.

Plumley says people use behavior to communicate and sometimes, those messages come out as aggression or self harm.

Listen to or read the original piece here.