On Positive Practice

A friend of mine is doing a presentation entitled: “In pursuit of positive practice: family centred practice and transitions” and she has asked me to contribute a section on a parental perspective – well this is mine.

So far there have been three big ‘transitions” around our son. The first was around diagnosis. The growing awareness of his difference, the diagnosis itself, the numbness, the adjustment to the idea that somehow we can fix this or at least make things as good as they could possibly be. It was a difficult time. The transition from an ordinary everyday – to a different kind of ordinary. And I guess the solutions were ours but we were definitely supported by some very positive practice. An Early Years Teacher who mainly listened and occasionally suggested; a pre-school who went with the flow and included our little man when most wouldn’t have.

This then merged into our second transition:  the transition into school. Again the Early Years Teacher was excellent. The perfect balance of local authority employee and familial advocate. We had no problem getting him a statement and no problem getting the school that we thought was right for him – it was only afterward that I realised just how gently we’d been guided.

I guess the third transition should have been his move from primary to secondary school, but it was so well handled that I’m not sure it counts. The new school turned out to be better than the last – which we’d already thought very highly of – so I’m not going to count it.

The third transition has been the most challenging of all.

Like the first it has been a transition of expectations and like the second it has been a transition between organisations. It started well: “Preparing for Adulthood” came along and did a marvellous workshop. We did Circles of Support and a One Page Profile and I distinctly remember leaving with a sense of the possible.

In the end things it didn’t go that well and ultimately the transition into the new organisation failed – well at least in part. There was undoubtedly some less than positive practice. But it didn’t fail because people got the mechanics of working together wrong or because people aren’t good at their jobs.

It failed because people think the only thing that changes are the institutions and services. What has surprised me most about my young man’s transition into adulthood, is that he is what has changed the most. And my expectations about him have changed again. Sure he still likes the Tellietubbies and a lot of what he does might appear child-like. But his sense of who he is – is that of a man. His need to take control of more of his daily life is the same as mine once was. His need to make at least some of his own choices the same as any adults.

So if I were looking for positive practice in the transition to adulthood – I’d begin with people’s expectations. I’d challenge the deeply held presumption across much of our society, both within institutions and families, that people with severe learning difficulties don’t have the right and need to make their own choices – regardless of how inconvenient they might be to all concerned.

Fortunately for my son, he currently has a social worker who gets that.

But the consequences of not recognising and acknowledging a person’s right to adulthood are significant. And the next time you are in a setting and a young adult is exhibiting challenging behaviour, it might be because that is simply what they do – but I’d be willing to bet – it’s because they have a voice and nobody is listening.

Mark Brown


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