Empowering Adults with Disabilities

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” Henry Ford

I have always had a heart for adults with disabilities. Having a brother on the spectrum and seeing his (and our family’s) struggles at various stages of life has given me a front row seat to the ever-changing issues faced by this population. Then after becoming a behavior analyst, I gained helpful knowledge and techniques that lead to empowerment through learning. I like to say that individuals like my brother have been using the toolkit that has worked their whole lives; it is our job to give them a better toolkit! Translation: problem behavior such as self-injury, elopement, PICA, property destruction, aggression and disruptive behavior serve a purpose to them due to a history of reinforcement. For example, if disruptive behavior such as slapping a table and yelling has always resulted in attention, we must teach that individual how to seek out attention appropriately before they have to act out for it. When that individual learns appropriate replacement behaviors, more doors open for them: increased community integration, independence in self-care, increased communication skills and truly getting their wants and needs met. This is empowerment.

Back in June, I posted a blog entitled “It’s About Time.” This was an exciting time within Grafton’s Adult Services Program as we had piloted the Behavior Enrichment and Teaching Home Program in a single group home with five clients. The BETH Program uses principles of Applied Behavior Analysis in teaching adaptive skills to individuals with disabilities in three key areas: basic, home and community settings. The skills that are taught are based on assessments conducted every three months; this enables us to not only know exactly where to start with the individual, but we can quantify their learning along the way. Since then, the program has been replicated in two more group homes in the Winchester region. The below data captures the continued learning in these homes:

Pilot House House 2 House 3If we want to empower our clients, we must empower those who work with them, too. The BETH Program incorporates staff training in ABA principles and requires teamwork and dedication among staff. This approach has led to consistency for our clients and that has propelled continued learning. The basic principles of reinforcement apply to all of us no matter who we are; if increased empowerment is what our clients want and is the result of learning, there will be more learning! We must continue to keep a laser focus on the adult population with disabilities as an ever-changing group of individuals who need and want more empowerment in their lives; what a special role we play in this meaningful process!