Bigger is better bias: or the knee jerk reaction

Picture this, I tell someone I like folk music. Their response, instead of saying “really”, or “what type?”  or something like that, is to say “maybe you could be part of the band”. I use this analogy to introduce the frequent responses that I hear when we say something that a person with PIMD can do. Can you guess what they might be?…

Sometimes it might be… “How could we turn that into a functional skill”. Sometimes it might be “how could we get them into the community”
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with the community or functional skills. What I do have a problem with is when those lines are given so immediately without first really valuing what the person is already doing. It’s almost as though what people are already doing is second best to the prospect of doing it as a functional skill or in the community.
Is bigger always better? Is the potential functional skill always better? Is doing it in the community always better? 
Perhaps what I talked about in my age appropriateness article fits here too. Are these things operating as enablers or barriers in people’s lives? I think if the question is based on an inherent devaluing of what the person is currently doing, and there will be significant challenges in the person acquiring the proposed   next step, then I do think they can be barriers: the person is left in a situation that many people see as second best and devalued (youll only be valued when your skill is functional or community based). But, if the current non functional and non community based skill is first truly valued and then the other thing is opened as an opportunity, then they can be enablers.
So next time I say I like folk music first understand why and what I like about it, not with the agenda of then modifying me to be more functional or community based. Then, after you truly understand my like you can propose making it more functional or community based.

Strengths and Needs

In 2006 I heard Penny Lacey (University of Birmingham) talk about working with people with PIMD. Penny talked about a simple approach of doing a strengths and needs profile of the person. The way I remember it (though I am not sure it is 100% correct), needs was NOT a euphamism for weakness, but “what does this person need in order to be the best person they can be”. So somebody with a vision impairment may have a need for people to sit 25 cm from the person’s face, or need objects to be held to the left or right side, or interaction partners not to sit in front of bright windows in order to avoid looking into glare. I really like this approach of looking at what we need to do to support a person best.
David Wareing spoke last week at the ASSID Conference in Melbourne about his “shaking up the house” work. He also talked about a strengths and needs model, but he used a more systematic, but dynamic, means to determine the person’s needs in the areas of cognition, communication, movement and other areas.
I think both of these approaches have much to offer for supporting high quality services for people with PIMD.