Dan’s Story

Posted by on Mar 7, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Adult ServicesOne of my favorite stories is that of a staff person named Dan and the lesson he learned by playing ‘dumb’. Dan had attended one of my trainings in rural Eastern Oregon, entitled Developing Communication Skills with Adults with Developmental Disabilities.  Dan had sat through the whole training, without saying much but listening intently.

The next day Dan approached me with a big beam on his face.  He had tried one of the strategies we had discussed the day before and he couldn’t wait to share his success!

Here’s Dan’s story:

“When I got to work on Friday it was Pizza Night, just like every Friday; however, this Pizza Night I did something different with Stevie, the individual I support, and boy did he notice! 

Stevie and I went into the kitchen together, and like always, I turned on the stove, showing Stevie that I set the temperature to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  I then turned to the refrigerator but rather than taking out the pizza I simply looked at it on the shelf and shut the refrigerator door.  I then opened the oven and closed the oven door and set the timer for 12 minutes.  Stevie looked at me and I smiled, as I walked away.  Stevie, perplexed, followed and we sat in the living room until we heard the timer ring. 

Stevie and I hurried back to the kitchen to see our cooked pizza.  I looked at Stevie as I opened the oven, “Is it done?” I asked.  Stevie looked in the empty oven, then back to me, puzzled. 

“Nope?” I questioned, and set the time for another 12 minutes.  Stevie was now getting hungry – me too! – and I could see he was mentally questioning my skills, but he followed me out of the kitchen, again, and we went back to hang out in the living room. 

Once again, when the timer rang, Stevie and I went to see our piping hot pizza.  And once again when I opened the over and looked at Stevie, I asked “Is it done now?”

Stevie had a very puzzled look on his face, took hold of my hand and led me to the refrigerator. He opened the refrigerator and pointed to the pizza, sitting cold and uncooked on the shelf.  I looked shocked!  “What? I forgot the pizza?” I shouted. 

Stevie smiled and then did something he had never done before.  He carefully lifted the pizza from the refrigerator, placed it on the counter, slowly and methodically  unwrapped it, and then, turned and opened the oven door for me!  Stevie knew I was not getting this pizza cooking thing and had now become the expert, showing me how to get dinner done!  Twelve minutes later both Stevie and I enjoyed this pizza and his success more than any other night!”

We are so often the expert in our communication exchanges we rarely provide our emerging communicators the chance to show us what they can do and be successful at.  To see what your budding communicator can do try one of the following in your next interaction.

  • Place a favorite thing within view but out of reach and be immediately available to assist the person, once requested. Use Tupper Ware or semi-high shelves.
  •  Play ‘Dumb’. Forget how to turn on the bath, use your keys to unlock a door or open the snack cupboard, or…make a pizza.
  • Offer things in small amounts.  Portion out snack, Legos, beads, drinks, etc.
  •  Give everything needed, minus one piece. Forget the straw, spoon, or their socks.
  • Provide toys or items with missing parts or seemingly “broken” pieces. ‘Hide’ a puzzle piece on your head or in your sleeve, forget to help them with their belt.
  • Let them be the expert: Within a familiar routine, don’t do the expected and WAIT PATIENTLY.  Put their shoe on their hand, put their coat on with the zipper in the back, start to pour their drink in a cup that is upside down!
  • Use LESS words and MORE gestures.
  • Once engaged in an interaction (for example, swinging, feeding, tickling, rocking, playing a game, getting in the car to go some place) ABRUPTLY STOP what you’re doing and wait for more to be requested.
  • Offer toys, games and items that require assistance or an interaction. Bubbles, wind-up toys or put items in bins that require assistance to open.

* Ideas Adapted from A. Weatherby & B. Prezant (1989) and F. Sussman (1999)

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