Saturday, July 14, 2012

Safety Skill Number One

Many of you know that I've spent a large part of the last few years thinking, writing, and putting into practice ideas for abuse prevention. There was an exact moment when I decided that this was going to be the focus of the next part of my career, I remember that instant with great clarity. Much of what I've done and many of the things put into practice has come either from reading research or from direct experience with people with disabilities and the system that serves them. Some things, like the one I want to write about today, come from little moments in life. Let me describe two of them to you.

Ruby was busy playing on the balcony, I had gone into the bedroom to drop something off. As I turned the chair around, I saw Sadie sitting looking towards Ruby with a bit of little sister envy. I called to her to come join me. Her mom and dad helped her down from where she was sitting and she ran to me. I helped her up onto the hotel bed - a giant king sized one. Both Ruby and Sadie are very used to being with us in hotels, and Sadie had a real inkling about what game was going to be played. I asked her to get the pillows ready and she did. Then she ran to me, I lifted her and threw her across the bed landing on the pillows. She howled with delight. As she got up, she paused for a moment, looked at me, evaluated the situation, decided that it was both fun and safe, grinned and said, "Again!" And we were off. Over the next few minutes Mom, Dad, and Joe peeked in to watch. She had a blast.

During the week that Ruby was with us, she decided to decorate the apartment for Canada Day, or 'Canada's Birthday' she called it. She's five. Birthdays are important events. She took streamers and tape, lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of tape, and set about putting garlands everywhere. My powerchair became connected to the television which was connected to the huge tree growing in the corner. At one point she was carefully stepping over something and her foot accidentally hit the radio, Joe's pride and joy, and knocked it to the floor. The crash was huge. She paused for a moment, looked at both of us, first one and then the other, gauging what was going to happen next. Joe and I, both, believe that you don't punish accidents. Accidents are accidents and the modern concept of attaching blame to accidents bothers both of us enormously. Joe rushed to her to see if she was OK. I made a joke of it by saying we'd put the radio back up and she could wrap it into place with streamers so it wouldn't ever be able to fall again. We all moved on.

These probably arent' the best examples of what I am trying to convey, but they are what life gave me. Sadie is two and Ruby is five and they already have the ability to pause to determine the danger in a moment. That ability to take the briefest of moments to 'read' the interpersonal situation that they are in maybe the most important safety skill that there is. The understanding that the world can be dangerous, that they need to evaluate the level of trust they have that they will be safe, seems to have come naturally to them. It thrilled me that both girls are self aware enough to know that from moment to moment their world changes - that they need to be alert to those changes - and that they can rely on their own judgements and their own instincts to tell them if they are safe. Now, I'm certainly not suggesting that at two or even at five that this skill is finely honed and I'd let either kid walk through a park alone - but I am suggesting is that this skill develops early and will grow with them as the dangers get bigger and the need for reading moments becomes more imperative.

With people with disabilities, at least the ones I have worked with and supported over the years. I've seen those who know there is danger but don't know how to read moments so they end up living a life of fear and anxiety. Others, probably most others, have been taught to rely on the judgements of others as to their safety and to not use their own skills. We often mistake 'compliance' for 'trust' and go merrily along. I wonder, now, if it's possible to begin to teach people with disabilities how to pause, evaluate and then take action. I think it may be. And that's what I'm going to work on, at work, on Monday.


John R. said...

P.E.T.A.....although the acronym is in use already, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but hey.....a great one for teaching people with learning or intellectual disabilities perhaps. I like using acronyms (in moderation because they can too also get overwhelming and confusing) but for your purposes, this may be really helpful.

P. Pause

E. Evaluate

T. Take

A. Action

Each of the 4 steps can be qualified and explained fairly easily and clearly. If you want, consolidate the last two and either use a P.E.T. acronym or P.E.A. ...

Anonymous said...

This is brilliant.

Nan said...

WE had pic symbols around the house and used them for various situations, including figuring out how to join in a social situation. it was Stop, think, act. Shortened mostly to stop & think, often cued with sign language, which allow us to cue a bit more subtly. We've tried to teach Jess that if she stops & thinks she usually knows what to do. Its the stopping and thinking that's important. So we also taught her that in many situations its okay to take as long as you need to think before your act or answer. The problem is, this is not always the case in dangerous situations (street/traffic), you don't have as much time as you need to think. We're still working on those!

Cynthia F. said...

Hi Dave, have you read Gavin de Becker's "The Gift of Fear"? He basically encourages people, particularly women, to trust their instincts and not over-rule them with politeness or compliance. He uses a lot of stories from his work in bodyguarding and also from his own experience as an abused child. It's a good read and could be a good background book to help you develop curriculum on this topic.