The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
Poring over the details on your behalf

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Challenged to Grow

Disability accommodation work can be isolated to one type of disability or span a range of needs. One area of accommodation in particular maps as an almost identical pattern in several categories of impairments yet it is successfully handled with nearly the same techniques. This disability can also be one of the most draining (in all ways) so that the burn-out factor occurs in a short time. The particular issue we examine today is the niche of learning disability.

A learning disability can be mild and not really surface until it becomes a barrier to some type of performance never attempted before. Minor adaptations can be worked out in order to compensate for the small issues. However, there are other learning disabilities that are more complex and profound. They interfere with interpretation of information; they can also interfere with communicating information; and they become impediments to accomplishing tasks and goals.

Other conditions that look very much like a learning disability are those where the person has issues with substance abuse, abusive personality, some psychotic personality disorders (in severe cases), and those suffering from one degree or another of ADD or ADHD. People with poor education or no education also easily fit into this classification, as well as those with little to no training and therefore do not know how to be independent and autonomous.

One of the signs of this type of learning disabiilty, that can be overlooked in a discussion of the signs and symptoms is the unfortunate habit of saying things that are quite obtuse and inappropriate. The person's words can be insulting or demeaning, a bit like spitting in one's face. In the alternative, these people will develop a completely incorrect interpretation of the information they heard or seen and swear that they are correct. Sufferers will even make excuses for what they have said or heard in order to justify its impropriety; they will argue for the correctness of their interpretation. Many times their passionate self defense will convince a few that they somehow did not understand and that they one with the impairment is quite correct in their interpretation. Some bullies demonstrate these propensities.

How to Handle

In its mild form, a learning disability is not easily detected. Being easily distracted can sometimes stem from fatigue, stress, or mere work/life balance issues. In this case, merely taking a break is the solution. All of us are affected by this and it is not indicia of some type of pathology. In fact, sometimes all it takes is turning away from the foot traffic that passes by a desk. At other times, the remedy can be as simple as sitting in an area with a large window in order to collect as much sunlight as possible. In the alternative, turning away from the window in order to avoid being distracted by the many scenes that fade in and out through the window.

Other ways of dealing with the condition may be to work for a particular time period and then take a brief break. Again, this is an excellent technique for very mild forms of learning differences. Many of us thrive on learning in a type of total immersion in our subject but doing it in intervals of 15 to 20 minutes or so.

ADD can compound itself very quickly as we increase the levels of new ramifications of the impairment. In fact, it is not quickly identifiable when you're dealing with a person with learning differences. But it's when a series of situations, taken together, start showing a problem that the issue becomes larger, more severe. Communication begins to be threatened. We need to be very careful about what we're saying and use every means possible to make certain we are being interpreted correctly.

This may mean we give instructions in increments. Or we give instructions (or information) and then have the person restate what we told them in order to insure that the correct message got through and was heard. Repeating the message confirms there was no straying in regard to interpretation of the information. If there was splintering of the information, this is the time to repeat and listen. If there is a misinterpretation, immediately stop their speaking and correct what it is that's incorrect. Have the statement repeated but in the client's terms. Continue doing this until their interpretation of the message is correct.

Coachable Moments

If there are terms the person with ADD is misusing, this is also the time to correct their definition. Make certain they understand that they were misusing the term, why the interpretation is incorrect, and what the correct interpretation is. This is a training moment. Use it. Use it in a non-threatening manner. This is not a time to be argumentative, although your "candidate" will object and say that you are. Just keep letting them know that they have not reached the same definition of terms; you're there to help. It's at this time that the conversation can become trying, even exhausting. Old habits die hard. It's times such as these that being professional and patient are the keys to keeping your candidate and winning this particular battle with the impairment.

These times can be difficult and draining. They will make you wonder why you're going through it. However, these are times of growth for both the accommodation provider as well as the client.

The client benefits because they gain new skills for coping as well as an appreciation of why the skills they acquire are valid. But the accommodation provider, the one who was just about to pull their hair out, also gains.

Getting through working with the client grows the ability to have patience. As you listen to the client, you learn more about different ways of communicating. You gain strength in listening to what others have to say and how they say it. You gain an ability to listen to various forms of logic and better understand them. You learn how to talk to people from all walks of life without judging them. If you are the type of person who has a laissez faire personality and just let things pass as not worth the effort, accommodation work with those who have moderate to profound issues will develop your ability to "push back" or cut the exchangement at the appropriate time.

Just working through these types of communications will enable you to grow a thick skin and will not back down as easily when you understand what's happening. It will help you see through bluster so that you can deal with the hidden feelings of inadequacy. You will also see past the shamed excuses for bullying that attempt to guilt you into accepting that type of communication, making you feel you must have misunderstood. You develop keener critical thinking skills.

Finally, you learn when correcting and clarifying are futile and end up being counter-productive. You benefit because you are challenged to grow in your being able to deal with all people of all walks of life.

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