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The Fabricated Word “Disability” and its Negative Impact on Generating Empathy

 

 

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The Fabricated Word “Disability” and its Negative Impact on Generating Empathy

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I would like to start by asking you a question. Can you run as fast or faster than Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce or Usain Bolt? I would hazard a guess that, like me, the answer is no! (If it's not then I would strongly recommend getting yourself involved in the next Olympics.) So with that established, by rights anyone who can not attain this pinnacle of physical movement should be classed as disabled. You might think I'm stretching things some what with that example, and that the average range of speed over the population should be the standard, thereby anyone below that should be classed as disabled. Well it's that word range that to me makes the word disability moot. You see we are all a wonderful mixture, excelling in some areas and not in others. For me there is no such thing as disabilities, there are only abilities and the ranges they come in. It's like saying that the 90 degree angle is the pinnacle of all angles and therefore any other angles that fall inside the vertical and horizontal lines are also classed as useful angles. But, those angles that come outside of the 90 degrees are not as deserving, so we will label them as dis-angles, as if some how they are no longer angles, less worthy or to be pitied.


So why is it so important to have empathy and how does it relate to the word disability? Well, empathy facilitates social inclusion, the development of healthy and meaningful relationships. When we see people as different to ourselves, it's difficult to have empathy with them, and if we don't empathise with them, it allows us to treat them in a way that we would not like to be treated ourselves. Think about your self image and what impact it would have on your personality if everyone you met treated you differently. How could you make equal friendships, or find a partner, when the world just shows you pity? “Oh, you poor dear, it's such a shame.” For me it's about facilitating self-worth, helping the individuals I'm lucky enough to work with see how amazing they, like the rest of us, truly are. After all, we have a neck so we can hold our heads high. Now, let me flip the point I'm trying make, imagine you're trying to form a working relationship with a chair! It would be at the very least, challenging, requiring a great deal of imagination on your part. As to my knowledge, chairs are rather unresponsive! It would, by its very nature, be difficult because the chair is so far removed from you as a person, so therefore, the further removed from others you are, the less able you will be to form meaningful relationships with them.


Our ability ranges are all different and you are astronomically unlikely to ever meet anyone with the exact same ability ranges as yourself, so the fact that we're all different is the one thing that makes us the same, and thereby the foundation of which we can empathise with everyone.

The Power Of Perceptions

 

 

 

The Power Of Perceptions

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To say that we are non judgemental is in my mind, a fallacy. We naturally study and asses our environment and those within it, how else would we know if we found someone attractive or that a situation was dangerous? Every decision requires a judgement so it's not being judgemental that's the issue but how we react to them.


How would you react, if a friend tells you they were in the local shop, and the new person working on the till was very rude, upsetting them and making them feel very uncomfortable? If you have a meaningful relationship with someone and you share similar interests, then it's fair to say that if they found the person working on the till rude then there's a good chance you will too. So the next time you go into the shop you will prepare yourself for the possibility of rudeness. You may even of created a loose opinion of this person and think negatively of them because they upset your friend, which would change your behaviour towards them. In this way we can use perceptions to form judgements on individuals and situations we have not met or even been in.


Let's change the example a little, instead of a friend its a colleague, and instead of them being directly upset they have just had a really tough shift dealing with a lot of challenging behaviour. They are not talking in a negative way, just going through the difficult parts of the day. Now a day or two later you are asked to cover for your colleague as they are not in work due to training, and your mind darts back to all the difficulties and challenging behaviour they were talking about previously. This could make you feel very uncomfortable, nervous, self conscious or just flatly refuse. Not only that but you could mentally prepare yourself for the perceived challenges. And from my experience, if you go into a situations expecting a fight, that's exactly what you'll get.


I have only covered the negative so far, but the issues that perceptions can cause, can come from people trying to do the right thing. For example, a child comes home from school and says to his mother, “there was a new boy in class to day and he was making all these weird noises, clapping his hands over his head and he even screamed.” From this the mother deduces that the boy her child is talking about has special needs and wants to promote acceptance and equality. Starting a conversation, she tells him that the new boy finds things harder than everyone else and that he has to be nice to him, not to stare and to be his friend, “because things are tough enough with out other children in the class making them harder.” The issue with these kind of perceptions is that they can form judgements based on pity. If you are helping someone through pity, then you are doing it to make yourself feel better which is inherently selfish, and of little use to the person you are trying to help. Empathy, an understanding of what it feels like to be treated as, “different,” or to have been in situations that have been challenging, will in my experience enable you to be much more effective and useful to those among us who require help, and as none of us can get into this world without a little help, that means all of us.


In the above example a more productive structure for the conversation would have been to show the similarities between the behaviours of the new boy and things that child either has experience of, or an understanding of. For example, “we all make noises when we are concentrating, just look and the footballers kicking the football they make a noise, or what about when dad gets out of a chair he makes a lot of strange noises.” “And as for clapping hands over heads, it might be simply too loud, remember when we put the television on after watching a DVD and the volume was up really loud and it made us all jump? Well we all hear things slightly differently, just as you don't like noises too loud, nor does he, it's just the noises he finds loud you don't. And when it comes to being friends with him and he does something you weren't expecting, like screaming, just think of how you would be with your other friends and do the same with him.” In this way you can help develop perceptions using empathy, which can inform judgements encouraging inclusion.


There is nothing wrong with being judgemental, it's what we do with them once they're formed that counts. Remember that they are there to guide us, learn to listen to them and disregard the ones that are unhelpful and employ the ones that are going to give you the best possible chance of a positive outcome.

 

Cause And Effect

 

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Cause And Effect

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When working with challenging situations it can be easy to focus our time, effort and attention on the behaviour itself, when in actual fact the behaviour is just the expression of the underlying issues. For example, if the behaviour currently being displayed is for attention and it's ignored, then the behaviour will appear as unsuccessful. However if the situation is just left there, then the underlying desire for more or appropriate attention has not been addressed. Therefore you are highly likely to see more attention seeking behaviours in the near future. In this example, the cause is the desire for attention and the effect is the behaviour, so by only interacting with the effect, the cause will continue and the effect will persist. A much more effective approach would be to, as before, challenge the behaviour, (in this example, ignore it), and look for an opportunity to give the individual your full attention. This could be anything they would enjoy, it doesn't have to be something big like a day out to a theme park, just some quality time where they are the reason you're there. This can be as humble as a conversation or game of football, and remember, you have to be there willingly. If you are disinterested or feigning an interest, (such as acting overexcited), then its the body language equivalent to saying 'I don't care.' Just because someone is younger than you, does not mean they're an idiot! It just means they have less experience to draw on to interpret the situations they find themselves in. And from my experience, even the very youngest of us has a good understanding of how to read body language and voice tone.


Lets take this premise and put it to a more socially complex situation. In this example, we have an individual who is seemingly, constantly upsetting, hitting out and ruining the games of their peers. So the behaviour, (effect), is challenged and the appropriate consequences given. But the behaviour still persists. So what could be the cause and how could it be approached to help the individual and nullify the effects? I have seen this pattern many times, and what I have found in the most cases is the individual is telling you what they want through their behaviours. By constantly harassing their peers, they are demonstrating a desire for their attention and therefore it is likely they want to form some meaningful relationships with them. And again, in the behaviour they have offered up the key to the situation, they do not have the skills or experience in forming the relationships they want, and that informs the correct approach. By starting games and involving them, you can start to attract their peers to you, and by making the games and interaction fun, this is how you will be perceived, and by extension the individual. All the time addressing and negative behaviours, not just from the individual but from everyone, demonstrating to the group as a whole that they are all equal. Once these games/interactions are going well you can start to withdraw from them, (the speed of withdrawal very much depends on the individual), giving the individual a good base of your modelled behaviours to interact and start games with their peers, leaving them to develop their own methods and coping strategies that will help them get what they wanted in the first place, the making and maintaining of meaningful relationships. In this way the cause is removed and the effect is surplus to requirements.

Information Overload

 

 

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Information Overload

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How many times have you seen a tree? Quite a few I would guess, if you're as old as I am! And did you notice that every single leaf is slightly different, but in a huge number of ways, such as vein structure, colour, shape, size, angle, elevation, stem, strength, flexibility, damage, infection, predation and on and on. A truly staggering amount of information and our brain just labels its as “tree” and we move on with our lives. Rather understandable really, otherwise not very much would get done. The point I'm trying to make is that so much of our world is filtered out for us and although our world is an amazing place, if it was not filtered we would never get out of bed for studying the sheets. We can only take in so much information and still function, the more we give to interpretation, the less we are able to function socially. Okay, so instead of trees let's use a social situation. Imagine you're in a busy bar, airport, wherever really, as long as there are a lot of people and they are all talking with one another. You can pick out the odd word or conversation but you can't hear and interpret every one of them because there is just too much information to be dealt with. So you filter it out so that you can talk to the people you are there with. Filtering is a very normal and social way of dealing with information overload. Try thinking of it as a scale, some of us can deal with a huge quantity of information while others can only cope with a small amount. Now put yourself back in the imaginary bar and make in twice as big with twice the amount of people, but this time they are no longer talking with each other but they are all talking at you, then double it all again. How long would you last before you had to leave? More than that how do you think you would leave? Get up calmly excusing yourself ever so politely, or would you clamp your hands over your ears and run shouting trying to block out all that noise? I know what I would have done and it certainly would not have been polite! With that said, it's not great leap of faith for me to see how an individual with a low tolerance to information overload could either filter out the majority of the world and everyone in it, or clamp their hands over their ears and leave. Also if you have hypersensitive hearing, then even moderate sounds could cause you pain, and if someone's just stabbed you in the ear with a red hot poker, you're not likely to turn round and offer them a piece of cake! So remember, you don't have to fill a room with conversation, just relax and enjoy being there with whoever you're with. You can't coax someone out of their shell by banging on it with a hammer.


The See-Saw Of Consequence

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The See-Saw Of Consequence

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The word consequence often gets a bad reputation when in actual fact it is a word that for me at least, conjurers up balance. A consequence can go either way, neither good nor bad, merely the reactions set in motion by our own choices. So when I hear that we should be interacting or setting out programs that are only filled with positive reinforcement it worries me a great deal. It would be far easier for me to write about how troubling and wrong it is to interact or set out programs that were only based on negative reinforcement. Indeed it seems much easier to understand that treating someone harshly and pointing out there mistakes all the time is clearly awful and incredibly harmful to the individual. But what seems to be a little trickier to grasp is that only treating someone with nothing but positivity can be equally as harmful! Let me explain what I mean. You see if you only ever praise someone for everything they do, you are not showing them the real ways in which the wider world will treat them. Not only that but they can become hooked on praise, like an emotional drug, becoming the only way in which the individual can feel validated or worthwhile. For instance if you never allow the individual to fail throughout their life in education, then upon leaving school to enter into the world of work, they go to there very first interview, filled with confidence. Why wouldn't they, having never failed anything? Why would this be any different, or for that matter why would interviewers treat them any differently? Then as so often happens to the young in the working world, another individual shows up who has more experience and gets the job. Or even harder to deal with, the break down of a serious relationship. With no understanding, experience or methods for dealing with perceived failures, then their world will either implode or explode.


It's not about smiling one minute and scowling the next, but about finding a balance. There should be both positive and negative elements when interacting or setting out programs, for me its about time and talking. Talk about the situation and the possible outcomes, and time from them to think on it and make a decision. By doing this you can show them that they have a choice and this can be very powerful, giving both confidence and a sense of self. It can truly be as simple as “If you calm down and let me put your shoes on, we can go to the park, or if not I will put your shoes away and we are not going to the park today?” You offer a consequence on both sides and let them make their own choice, following through with the consequence they themselves have chosen. This involves them in the situation and its outcome, whilst promoting thinking for themselves. You should never give a consequence, good or bad, to an individual who does not understand or will not make the connections through what you are implying, this makes it punitive and wrong. Put it in a way that they will understand, pitch it at their level and remember if we didn't make, mistakes we wouldn't make anything.

The Irony Of Boundaries

 

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The Irony Of Boundaries

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When thinking of boundaries and the never ending list of social rules they apply to, it's easy to feel that they can be constricting. However, more often the reverse is true. You see boundaries can help us to develop our sense of self, they are some of the essential building blocks in understanding how to be around other people, and consequently how to develop meaningful relationships. It's a bit like breaking the world up into smaller pieces so we can form an understanding of how each part works. Once we understand the mechanics and have made a few guided forays, the boundaries are relaxed, removed or shifted to increase our horizons. Boundaries also take time and calm implementation, I find it a good idea to keep the person I'm holding the boundaries for, in mind. This helps to remind me who I'm doing this for, as unnecessary or overly harsh boundaries can go against what you're trying to achieve. It's not always easy for the individual holding them, but try to remember they also communicate a great deal of care. Let me tell you a little story my dad use to tell me when I was younger and complaining of what I thought was obviously an outrageous curfew. There is a group of friends all playing out in the street when it starts to get dark, one by one they're all called home for dinner, all except for one! Now his friends think he's the coolest kid on the street, but how do you think he feels when no one has the time to call him home for his evening meal? I may have rolled my eyes at this and made my feeling known on the odd occasion or two, but at the time it was great to be out as late as possible. As I grew up and gained a greater understanding, the message and the feeling I have been left with is that my dad cares about me and so when I'm being buffeted about by life ups and downs I have something to think back on and feel good about just being me, and that makes me smile. Don't think for one minute that holding the boundaries is a well received pastime! My beautiful little daughter just turned one a few months ago and I'm firmly of the belief that she will not be thanking me for holding the boundaries until her mid to late twenties! But, if and when she does, that will be the time when I think to myself, I did alright!

The Beautiful Washing Machine

 

 

 

The Beautiful Washing Machine

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Back when I first started working with other people I was fortunate enough to work with an individual who taught me a rather wonderful lesson. The challenging behaviour that he exhibited was not of anger or aggression but of a perceived lack of interest, a want to do very little or so it seemed. On more than a few occasions members of staff would roll their eyes when they were informed they would be working with this young chap, and I freely admit I was one of them. You see, sitting in a room with nothing happening and no one talking for up to, and sometimes over, an hour can be quite a challenge. It was on one one such shift I thought I would try to see what he found so interesting, try to follow his gaze and puzzle out what kept him in one place for so long. The more I looked the more I saw, stands to reason really! We could be sat outside and I found myself staring at leaves, wondering how the physics of the situation was taking effect, or just in the artistry of the movement. The more I appreciated the time I spent with him, the more I appreciated him as an individual, (something I mistakenly thought I already did). This did not happen over night, a wave of peace and calm did not wash over me and take me off to a magical place where everyone's hats are made of chocolate! It took time, and for anyone who knows me, knows that simply sitting still is an act of will, which made this all the more challenging. You see when you spend time with someone and your mind is elsewhere then you're not really with them, in fact your only occupying the same space. So it not enough to just give time, after all what is time with out meaning? Learn to enjoy what you're doing and thereby demonstrate to the other person that they are cared for because they can see it reflected in you. There is beauty in almost everything, we just have to look. I realised this as after a shift I found myself doing some washing, watching the various items vying for a position at the window, I must have stared at it for ages just enjoying the sound and the images made up of bubbles, water and cloth. As I gained more experience I began to understand that I found being in a such a quiet situation challenging because I was faced with myself, no conversation, music or television for distraction. Confronting this helped build confidence and helped me understand that you don't have to fill room, there is nothing wrong with silence. This can be so important when working with an individual who is easily overwhelmed, so many times I have seen well meaning individuals use too much speech, too much movement and body language, just wait and relax. Start to build trust through understanding. You can't force the snow from the sky, but you can be patient.

Self Harm

 

Self Harm

 

 

Imagine your happily navigating the wilderness of life when you stumble across a hive of angry wasps. They swam and begin to sting you, a few at first, then more and more until the pain sends you hurtling away from the hive. As you're running, the pain becomes worse, but not just pain, mental turmoil. What about allergic reactions, anaphylaxis, all the while the quantity of venom within you is increasing with every sting. You see the gleam of water and sprint for it. The cacophony of internal voices are silenced as you crash though the surface, all the stings soothed almost to the point of non existence by the sensation of the water.

 

Think of a single sting as being a negative feeling, thought, comment or situation, how many would you be able to take before the swarm got too much? I have heard many times and from a number of different people, I have to have a few drinks after work, it settles me down. Or, I've had a terrible week I need a good blow out this weekend. And what about smoking a cigarette after an argument? All these are ways, all be it more socially acceptable, of dealing with stress, yet everyone of them damages the individual's health. They are hurting themselves in order feel better. The point I'm trying to make is that when we experience stress most of us will have coping strategies to help alleviate the impact and some of these are less harmful than others. Some people find it in sports while others just need to take 5 minutes to themselves, for a walk or a cup of tea. I am not suggesting that self harm is a good way in which to deal with difficulties, it's just in my experience you are likely to be talking about an individual that has very low self esteem, who feels voiceless, like a faded person in a busy scene. If they finally build up the courage to talk about what's going on in their lives, you are highly likely to make them feel further ostracised by giving a negative response to their behaviour. It is completely normal to be shocked if someone close to you discloses something as distressing as self harm, so it's the next steps you should look to for having a more constructive outcome. Talk to them honestly, let them know you care and you are there for them, with no strings, ifs or buts. You need to see past the behaviour and help with the real issues. One of the best ways to help build self confidence is to take the time to show you care, if you see worth in them, then they will learn to see it in themselves. You don't have to understand every brush stroke to love a painting.

How Normal Is Normal?

 

 

How Normal Is Normal?

 

When working with someone on a one to one basis it's easy to get over focused on how that individual behaves, so I thought I would put this together to draw some parallels in behaviour to demonstrate that although at first an individual may appear to be behaving in a way that makes no sense or forces them to stand out, in actual fact they are demonstrating normal behaviour just in a different context. What is the point of that, you may wonder? Well, it's about treating people the same as everyone else. If you want to give someone a good understanding of how to fit in and make meaningful relationships, then they need to take a roll in society that is equal, this means the same rules and boundaries are adhered to. People respond to how they are treated so show them the respect they deserve and don't give in to a behaviour just because it could be linked to a diagnosed condition or troubled past. Help them to find a solution so the behaviour can be removed, show them that you think they are worthwhile because no matter what they throw at you, you can remain calm and weather the storm. This can be a great way to help an individual to build self-esteem whilst also showing that having a behavioural outburst is not a good use of time and energy in gaining the desired outcome.  

With that said I'd best get back to those parallels I mentioned earlier. Imagine a middle aged man at a football match, his team have just won and he is going crazy, jumping, shouting and hugging people he has never met. Now imagine a young child at school who is watching the wheels on a train, after which they jump up and down, flicking their hands so quickly they blur, all the while whooping and laughing. Both people are expressing the same behaviour mostly based on excitement, the only difference is we are more use to seeing people getting over excited at sporting event. There must of been a time when you have gotten in late and had some reading to do either for work or pleasure, (if you're lucky it will be both), and you've sat down to read the book, paper or screen, when before long you've looked away and rubbed your eyes. Now think of a teenager walking into a noisy hall were everybody is having lunch. They get a few steps into the hall before slapping their hands to their head, covering their ears. These to me are both examples of too much information, an overloading of one of the senses. So what do we do? We shut it off to give our brain a break. What about interviews? They can be very nerve wracking and intimidating, especially if you really want or need the work. Now consider a young adult sitting playing video games in their room and when there are encouraged to go out to meet or make some friends, boom, a huge behavioural outburst, could be verbal or more aggressive behaviour. This can be down to anxiety, the feeling of putting yourself out there. What will others think of me, what will happen? Going for interviews will help to build self esteem because the behaviour is being confronted. The young adult in their room however is avoiding the problem through negative behaviour, but the emotions are the same and that's were I see the parallel.

So what is normal? From what I see, all of it! When I'm working with an individual before everything, gender, race, height, weight, ability, appearance, clothes, and all those other things we coat, file and grade ourselves with, before all of it, the first thing to me is that they are a person, nothing strange or odd, wonderful yes, but a person first and foremost. Why is that important when dealing with behaviour? Because if in the back of your mind you think that this person strange or you pity them, then it will come through in your body language, of which they are likely to pick up something is not right and the behavioural intervention will be all the more challenging because of it.

Whispers

 

 

 

Whispers

 

I have heard many people in many situations say "I went with my gut feeling". So how can this be of any use when working with challenging behaviour? Well, the way I see it is the subconscious mind takes in far more information then we can focus on all at once. While our conscious mind is darting around picking up the fine details, the subconscious will be giving a nudge towards what might be worth focusing on. It's like looking for someone you know in a crowd of people. You have an image of them in your head and some key things might be at the forefront of your mind, such as, hair colour, clothes, height etc. So while your focused mind will be looking around at smaller parts, your subconscious will be taking in the wider picture, making suggestions of where to look when you skim over someone who may have one or more of the features on the list. When I'm working with an individual I can't possibly to take in all the information consciously that is offered out in a situation. Think of body language and all the different parts we can use to display a tiny shift in mood. I would have to be staring straight at that part of the body, just at the right time, to pick up the movement. But my subconscious mind is taking in the bigger picture and I will get the feeling that something has changed, sometimes it may be clearer and I will get the feeling that the situation has an air of attention seeking about it. Most people can pick up when someone else is feeling aggressive or when there is tension in a room. So why not put your intuition to work? Remember they are only a suggestion, a raised flag if you will. It's NOT an instruction to go to red alert, but a guide to be mindful of yourself, what you are doing, how you're feeling and what effect that might have on the situation. I'm not saying you should walk into a situation with a blindfold on waiting to hear a whispered voice telling you to use the force. Just don't get swept away by the situation keep an active and open mind. Don't fall into old patterns of your own behaviour, turn off the auto pilot and learn to listen to your gut feelings. Work out your automatic responses and process so they can be brought forwards to the conscious mind and actively worked on, to gain understanding, insight and improvement.

 

Diagnosis

 

 

 

Diagnosis

 

Have you ever listened to a radio presenter building up a picture of them in your mind, only to see them on the television or hear them being interviewed? Leaving you thinking they are nothing like you imagined them to be? What about reading a book that later gets made into a film, only to be left feeling a little put out that the director's choice of actors did not fit with your interpretation of the characters? Well a diagnosis can work in the same way. I'm not saying a diagnosis is a bad thing, far from it. They have two very useful aspects that I can see, one gaining funding and two they are very useful for someone who is not going to meet or work with the individual who has the diagnosis. And it's the second point I'm getting at. I have worked with many people who have been diagnosed with the same or similar conditions, syndromes etc. and what I have found is that they are all affected differently, because we are all so wonderfully different to start with. Not only are we all different but we can change at any given moment, so diagnoses, though useful can be very rigid and almost impossible to keep up to date. Think of it like the three states of water, a written program or diagnosis is like ice. Solid and can be very powerful, but, it's very slow to react and rigid. Liquid water I liken to the individual, quick, changeable, affected by what's around it, all together wonderfully malleable. And Steam is how I like to think of a behavioural approach. You see the steam is coming from the water, taking its cues from it, moving with the water free to change as the situation does. What I trying to say is don't believe everything you read these are only ever a small slice in time and a person does not fit on a few pages.  Learn to observe them, translate their body language and build up a clear picture of the person as they are at that time, in that moment and learn to enjoy it, because at any moment it could all change!

 

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