Some inclusion requires ongoing effort

Inclusion means a lot of different things. Sometimes inclusion can be passive, sometimes it needs setup, and sometimes it needs ongoing effort and/or expense.

Sometimes inclusion is passive. In that sense, it’s the opposite of active exclusion.

Some examples of passive inclusion:

  • Meeting in a building that happens to be accessible.
  • Not harassing disabled people with intrusive unwanted “help”
  • Seeing a conspicuously disabled adult alone in a public space without assuming it’s somehow an emergency or that they’ve escaped from needed supervision. (And therefore not bothering them.)
  • Raising no objection when people bring service dogs into a store or some other place
  • Not having an admissions policy that prohibits people with certain disabilities from enrolling in a school

Sometimes to get to passive inclusion, you have to spend some time changing one thing or setting it up. After the temporary period of active change, the inclusion becomes passive.

Some examples of inclusion that requires setup, but may not require ongoing active effort:

  • Building a wheelchair ramp
  • (Or renovating an unsafe ramp and bringing it up to code)
  • Hiring an architect knowledgable about accessibility when you’re building a new building
  • Making your book available on Bookshare 
  • Changing a restrictive admissions policy

Sometimes there is no passive way to include people. Sometimes inclusion means active ongoing effort or expense

A couple examples of active inclusion:


  • Some people need captioning to understand speech reliably. (Including many people who can hear).
  • Captioning takes time and human effort. Computers can’t do it; it has to be done by people.
  • Live captioning has to be done by experts (in CART or TypeWell), and it’s inherently expensive.
  • CART or TypeWell captioning events/classes in real time takes time, effort and expertise. It is inherently expensive.
  • High quality captioning also requires ongoing collaborative effort with the providers – people doing the captioning need to understand the words you’re saying in order to transcribe them accurately. So they need  to be provided with any acronyms, technical vocabulary, or culturally specific words you will be using.
  • If videos and events/classes aren’t captioned, a lot of people are passively excluded.
  • There’s no cheap or passive way to include them. Inclusion requires effort and resources.

Alternative format materials:

  • Some people can’t read standard print.
  • In order to access education or events involving print, they need materials in an accessible format
  • (Eg: electronic copies, braille, scans, large print, audio recordings, or something else, depending on the person)
  • Someone has to convert materials to an accessible format, every single time. This is inherently time consuming, and may in some cases require expertise or expensive equipment.
  • Every time materials aren’t converted, print disabled people are excluded.
  • There is no passive way to include print disabled people.
  • Inclusion of print disabled people is only possible when communities and schools and teachers are willing to put effort, time, and resources into inclusion.

There are many, many more examples of all three types of inclusion. When we talk about inclusion, the conversation needs to be about all three. Passive inclusion, setup inclusion, and active inclusion are all vitally important. People with disabilities are worthy of time and money.

Short version: Sometimes inclusion is easy and sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes inclusion means that you stop actively excluding people, and include them by letting them be. Sometimes inclusion means setting something an access feature initially, then including people by letting them be. Sometimes inclusion takes ongoing effort and expense. Sometimes inclusion means you stop passively excluding people, and start actively including them. All of these forms of inclusion are vitally important.

Autistic kids need to be able to talk about disability

Disabled kids need to be able to talk about disability. Difference isn’t a good enough word. Everyone’s different from everyone else in some way. Not everyone has a disability. People who have disabilities need to be able to talk about that, both in general and specific terms.

I’m writing this partly in response to comments I’ve seen on several good posts that have been circulating recently on why it’s important to tell autistic kids they’re autistic.

I’ve seen some parent responses that seem superficially positive, which actually miss the point:

  • “Yes, we told him about that. We told him it’s the thing that makes his brain different, and that it’s why he’s so smart.” or
  • “We told her that autism means she’s awesome!”
  • “We told him he just thinks a little differently.”

That’s not good enough, because it doesn’t address autism as a disability. Knowing the word “autism” only goes so far. Kids also need to be able to talk about disability in a nuanced way, without glossing over things.

Kids will know that there are difficult and painful aspects of being disabled whether or not you talk about it. You can’t protect children from that knowledge by refusing to talk about it; you just end up sending the message that they’re on their own in dealing with it.

Here are some other things autistic kids need to know, beyond the word autism (not an exhaustive list by any means):

The basic version:

  • Autism is a disability
  • It’s one of the reasons some things are really hard for you
  • It also comes with strengths
  • You’re not going to grow out of it. You *are* going to grow up.
  • You can do things that matter.
  • There are other kids and adults like you, and we’re going to help you meet some of them
  • Some people are prejudiced against people like you. It’s ok to be upset about this.
  • Some things are going to be different for you than they are for most other kids, in ways that might not be predictable.
  • It’s ok to have questions
  • It’s ok to feel however you feel about all of this
  • Your parents and other supportive adults are here for you, and will help you figure things out and get help when you need it

Some other, more complicated (and also not exhaustive) information:

And any number of other things.

Disability is complicated. Disability is something we spend our whole lives dealing with, and that we never stop learning about. This is not something you can cover with your child in one conversation When you talk to your kids about being disabled, it’s really important to let it be complicated, and to be honest about it being a long-term conversation. It’s important that they know that you can handle talking about it, and that it’s ok for them to have questions, feelings, and to need help figuring things out.

Short version: Telling your autistic kid that they are autistic isn’t enough. You also have to talk to them about disability.

“Attention seeking behaviors”

Autistic people and other people with cognitive disabilities are often interpreted as doing things for attention, whether or not that explanation is plausible.

For example:

  • Alice is autistic. She flaps her hands.
  • Hand flapping is part of Alice’s body language. She moves her hands to express a large range of thoughts and feelings, just like some people move their facial muscles to express a broad range of thoughts and feelings
  • Alice also sometimes flaps her hands to calm down when she is overloaded
  • Bernice is a behaviorist. She is distressed about the fact that Alice flaps her hands.
  • Whenever Alice flaps her hands, Bernice stares at her, and pays intense attention to the fact that she is flapping her hands
  • Bernice notices that every time Alice flaps her hands, Bernice pays attention to her
  • Bernice concludes that her attention is reinforcing Alice’s flapping behavior
  • Bernice concludes that Alice’s hand flapping is an attention-seeking behavior
  • Bernice puts Alice on a behavior plan based on ignoring her whenever she flaps her hands

Behaviorists and others make this mistake a lot. They very, very frequently assume that the fact that they are paying attention to something means that it is being done to get their attention. It doesn’t. It just means they’re paying attention.

Starting at someone whenever they do something doesn’t mean that they’re doing it because they like being stared at. It just means that you’re staring at them.

Short version: Stop calling everything attention seeking behavior. The fact that you’re paying attention to something doesn’t mean that someone is doing it because they want your attention. Not everything a person who has a developmental disability does is about you.

People with disabilities are not professional development objects

Some people, often disability professionals, interact with disabled folks in creepy ways.

Here’s one way this plays out:

  • Person with a disability: I am going to bake a fancy cake. I am going to the fancy cake store to get ingredients. I hope they have the sugared roses in.
  • Disability professional who happens to be in the store: Oh wow, a real live disabled person with the exciting disability widget I’ve been reading about in the Journal of Professional Development In Supporting Widget Use!
  • Disability professional: Hey, you have an Exciting Widget. What kind of widget is it? Is it model 8A series 27? Do you have widget syndrome? I’ve heard that the New Widget is particularly good for people with widget syndrome. Has that been your experience?
  • Person with a disability: …

Other things of this nature:

  • “It’s so nice to see that you’re choosing to use the Exciting Widget and be independent.“
  • “Have you ever considered getting a dog instead of using the Exciting Widget?”
  • “Do you find that the Exciting Widget allows you to use a wider range of toilets?“
  • “Are you allowed to use the Exciting Widget at work?”
  • “Did you find the rehab difficult? I know it’s been hard for some of my clients.”

In effect, the disability professional is thinking something like this:

  • Being really fascinated with disability
  • Assuming that all people with disabilities are just as fascinated as they are, and:
  • That they are endlessly interested in talking about disability and equipment and therapy
  • Or that they’re living classroom models
  • And then treating them as though being visibly disabled in public constitutes permission to ask invasive personal questions and initiate detailed conversation about disability

It’s not ok because:

  • Decisions about adaptive equipment and mobility are intensely personal and private
  • It’s not ok to ask random strangers intimate questions about their bodies
  • Being disabled in public just means that someone is living their life
  • Being visibly disabled in public doesn’t mean someone is endlessly fascinated with disability, or that they’re remotely interested in discussing disability and equipment and therapy with you.
  • The world is not your classroom. It’s the world, and the people in it have agendas of their own. It’s not ok to treat them as objects for your professional development
  • People with disabilities should be able to live their lives without being asked inappropriately intimate questions by strangers

Some concrete examples:

People with disabilities are just living their lives. A person with a disability doesn’t owe it to anyone, including professionals, to participate in their disability fandom.

For instance:

  • Wheelchair users are using wheelchairs to get around. Their wheelchairs are not an invitation for you to participate in the wheelchair fandom and discuss wheelchairs, disability, treatments, or your professional development with them.
  • Blind people are not an opportunity to participate in the cane fandom, the O&M fandom, or to discuss your opinions about the relative merits of canes and dogs
  • All of those things require consent, and being disabled in public does not constitute consent.

And particularly if you are a professional:

  • It’s important to keep in mind that being a disability professional is a choice, and having a disability isn’t
  • And for professionals, equipment conversations are a form of talking shop; for most people with disabilities they are intimate and personal.
  • People with disabilities are not necessarily interested in using their personal lives as fodder for your shop talk
  • If you see someone with a disability in a public place, all you know is that they have a disability. That doesn’t imply anything about their interests or their willingness to answer invasive personal questions.
  • And more generally: as a professional, you have a responsibility to be rigorously ethical in the way you interact with people with disabilities
  • If you’re being invasive and asking inappropriately intimate questions of random disabled strangers in public, you’re probably doing a lot of even more inappropriate things with clients
  • People with disabilities who depend on you for services might not be in a good position to assert boundaries; it is your responsibility to avoid putting them in that position and rigorously respect boundaries on your own initiative
  • You can’t simply rely on your professional culture to teach you appropriate boundaries; there are too many professionals who don’t have this skill.
  • You have to actively seek out boundaries education on your own initiative
  • One professional who is really good at this is Dave Hingsburger. He wrote a good introduction called Power Tools. It explains a lot of practical things about power, disability, and boundaries in practical concrete ways.

Short version: People with disabilities are not education objects. Don’t ask people with disabilities invasive personal questions about their bodies or adaptive equipment choices. If you’re a disability professional who does this, it’s important to stop doing that and to learn more about boundaries. 

A way people with disabilities are often wrongly percieved as angry

Sometimes disabled people are wrong perceived as angry or hostile when they move like disabled people. It works something like this:

  • The most efficient way to do things is often not the socially accepted way to do things
  • People with disabilities often have to do things in an efficient way to be able to do them
  • In order to be perceived as calm and polite, people are often expected to move in a slow, careful way without making sudden or loud motions
  • That’s easy for most people without disabilities, and can be difficult or impossible for people with disabilities
  • Sometimes people with disabilities don’t have the motor coordination or strength to move in expected ways. Sometimes pain or illness makes them too exhausted to have the energy to move in expected ways. Sometimes, they have to move efficiently to be able to move at all.
  • People with disabilities who have to move in loud, sudden, forceful, or jerky ways are often wrongfully perceived as expressing anger, frustration, or aggression.
  • When people make loud, jerky, or sudden motions, they tend to be perceived as rude, angry, or aggressive
  • People with disabilities don’t always have the coordination to make the movements in expected ways
  • Sometimes, they have to be efficient in order to do the thing.
  • This often gets perceived as angry when it isn’t
  • This can lead to people with disabilities who are just trying to live their lives being perceived as hostile and excluded
  • When a person with a disability is moving in a jerky, sudden, or loud way, it’s important to consider the possibility that it’s disability-related rather than angry

Some concrete examples:

Dropping things:

  • In most social contexts, it’s socially expected that people who need things to be on the ground put them there without making a sudden noise
  • This generally means using your arms to slowly lower the thing to the ground
  • People with disabilities often do not have the strength or motor coordination needed to lower things this way
  • Sometimes, people who can’t rely on muscles to lower things need to drop them and rely on gravity
  • (And some people have to rely on gravity some of the time, eg: when they’re tired, at the end of a long day, when they’re in a particularly draining environment, when they’ve already had to lift and drop the thing several times that day.)
  • Gravity only goes one speed, and dropped objects tend to make noise
  • Dropping a heavy object rather than lowering it slowly is usually perceived as a sign of anger (and for people without disabilities, it’s generally intended as one).
  • People with disabilities who drop things are often not intending it as an expression of anger.
  • Often, they drop things because they need them to be on the ground and have no other realistic way of getting them there.
  • If a person with a disability is dropping heavy things rather than lowering them, it’s important not to automatically assume that they are doing this out of a show of emotions
  • Consider seriously the possibility that they’re dropping things because they need to lower them, and due to disability are not able to do so in the socially expected way.

Another example: Plugging things in:

  • The socially expected way to plug things in is to slowly push the plug into the outlet using a steady pressure
  • That requires a particular kind of strength and muscle control
  • Some people with disabilities can’t do that
  • Some people with disabilities have to rely on momentum.
  • Relying on momentum involves one sudden forceful movement.
  • That can look like punching, and can be perceived as excessive force
  • Most people without disabilities only plug things in with that kind of force when they are angry or frustrated
  • People with disabilities often plug things in that way because it’s the only way they can do it
  • If a person with a disability uses a lot of force to plug things in, don’t assume it’s a display of emotion.
  • Consider seriously the possibility that they’re doing it that way because that’s how their body works

In general:

  • Some socially expected movements are complicated and difficult
  • Sometimes people with disabilities can’t do it in the polite way
  • Sometimes, we have to do it in a way that’s more efficient
  • That’s often perceived as rude, inconsiderate, or threatening, when it’s really just limited ability to move in expected ways
  • No amount of social skills training or knowledge of socially expected behavior will make it physically possible to move in all expected ways
  • This can result in people with disabilities being perceived as angry or displaying rage when all they’re doing is moving
  • It’s important not to automatically assume that people with disabilities who move oddly are doing it to display anger. It might just be that that’s the only reasonable way for them to do something.
  • If you understand this, you’ll be much more able to relate to people with disabilities and include people
  • (People with disabilities, like everyone else, sometimes display anger and frustration in physical ways. But they are routinely wrongly perceived as doing so. It is possible, and important, to learn to tell the difference).

Short version: People with disabilities are often perceived as displaying rage or aggression when they’re just moving. This is because socially expected ways of moving are often very inefficient in ways that aren’t too difficult for most nondisabled people, but can be difficult or impossible for people with disabilities. It’s important to learn to tell the difference between people with disabilities moving efficiently and people with disabilities displaying anger. Scroll up for details and examples.

Listening to people who have disability accents

People with certain disabilities often have heavy disability accents. Their speech can sound very different from the way most nondisabled people speak.

People with disabilities that affect communication are often pushed into separate programs, particularly in adulthood. Even when they are in the same classes in the same schools, there isn’t much of an expectation that any peers listen to them. This was even more true a generation ago. As a result, most people without disabilities are lousy at understanding people with disability accents, and don’t understand that this is a glaring hole in their social skills.

Many unskilled people tend to maybe ask people with disability accents to repeat themselves once, and then they get frustrated and start ignoring them. Sometimes they pretend to understand, and smile and nod rather than actually listening. Sometimes they hang up on them. Sometimes they pass them off to another person, who also doesn’t bother to actually listen. Sometimes they hang up. If they are medical workers, sometimes they write on a chart that someone is impossible to understand or has no communication (particularly if that person also has an intellectual disability.)

Do not be this person. If you can’t understand someone with a disability accent, the problem is your skills, not their voice. (If you have a receptive language disability that prevents you from learning to understand accents, then it’s no one’s fault and you need an interpreter to communicate. Neither their voice nor your brain is wrong. In that situation, the skill you need to develop is finding an interpreter.)

If you listen, and make it clear that you are listening, you will learn to understand, and you will be able to communicate successfully with more people.

An important phrase for this is “I’m having trouble understanding what you’re saying, but I care what you are saying.”

Make sure it’s true, and keep listening. The more you listen, the easier it will be to understand. Understanding . And practice. You get better with practice.

Too many people are ignored because others can’t be bothered to understand their accents. You can make this better by listening (and by insisting that people you supervise listen.)

Thoughts on noticing disability experiences

A reader asked:
As an able bodied person, I am never certain when/if it’s appropriate to bring it up. I don’t want to belittle disabled persons, but I also don’t want to be protected from their reality. How do you bring this up respectfully?
realsocialskills said:
The short version is – bring it up when it matters, respond respectfully when they bring it up, and don’t be creepy about it.
Some details:
On responding respectfully:
  • If someone mentions disability, acknowledge what they say, in the same way you acknowledge other things people say. Do not ignore them or wait for them to change the subject.
  • (I’m mentioning this because, very often, when I mention being disabled, people completely ignore me until I change the subject. It hurts. Don’t do that).
  • I think sometimes people ignore us when we mention disability because they’re anxious about saying the wrong thing.
  • It helps to keep in mind that someone mentioning disability probably isn’t actually asking you to understand everything and fix their lives by saying something brilliant. They’re probably just talking about their life, just like everyone else does
  • Even if you don’t know what to say, say *something*, or respond *somehow*
  • Eg, if someone mentions that they’re in pain that day, saying “That sucks” is a lot better than ignoring it.
  • Just, generally speaking, don’t treat disability as a scary taboo subject. Treat it as a normal thing to talk about.

A thought on language:

  • Generally speaking, the best language to use is the language someone uses for themself
  • Eg: If someone calls themself Deaf, don’t call them hearing-impaired
  • People have widely differing preferences on person-first language. Some people prefer to be called people with disabilities. Some people prefer to be called disabled. Some people don’t care much one way or the other. It’s best, if you can, to mirror the language someone uses for themself.
  • It’s also worth being aware that almost everyone hates being called “differently abled” and that most adults do not like to be called people with special needs.
  • That said, the most important thing is to speak to someone respectfully and to acknowledge them. Getting the language wrong is less bad than refusing to acknowledge or mention disability

Help people in a matter-of-fact way when they ask for help:

  • People with disabilities often need help at various times
  • Getting help can be really complicated
  • A lot of people like to feel like they are ~helping~, and that it’s an emotionally laden act of charity.
  • But actual help is just – doing stuff people ask you to help them with. It shouldn’t be a big deal..
    • Eg: Jane and Sue are in a meeting with other people in their office.
    • Someone in the meeting passes out an agenda
    • Jane’s hands aren’t working well that day, so she asks Sue to pick up her copy for her
    • Sue should do so without comment (unless she needs to ask a question in order to clarify what Jane wants her to do)
    • This would not be a good time for Sue to ask Jane questions about her hands
  • Another example:
    • Sam and James are coworkers. Sam is blind and James is sighted.
    • James and Sam work closely together and often go to offsite trainings or meetings
    • In a meeting in an unfamiliar place, Sam asks James to show him where the food is and tell him what is available.
    • James does so, and it’s not a big deal, because people who work together help each other with stuff.

More thoughts on help:

  • If you have reasons for not wanting to do a particular thing, that’s ok
  • (Eg: if someone asks you to move a heavy box out of the way of the ramp, it’s ok to say “Actually that’s too heavy for me too – how about if I find someone else to move it?”)
  • If you think that something other than what the person is asking for might work better, it’s ok to suggest it, but not ok to override them
  • (Eg: “There’s an elevator across the street. Would that work?”, NOT “Just take the elevator!”, or “I think they may have accidentally sent us salad with croutons. Is that dangerous to you, or will you be able to pick them out?” NOT “Can’t you just pick out the croutons?”)
  • If someone tells you that they do not want help, back off. (Eg: If someone with a mobility impairment tells you not to hold the door, don’t hold it. They have a reason.)
Sometimes it’s important to bring up disability. When you see a potential access issue, say something to the person it affects, and ask them what to do:
  • Like “We all want to get together for dinner. Jane’s Loud Bar and Grill has awesome steaks, but it’s really loud. Does that work for you, or should we pick a different place?” or:
  • “We’re chartering a bus for the company picnic. What should we know about your access needs? Should we get a bus with a lift? Or is there another way that would work better?” or:
  • “There’s going to be a booklet for the conference. Do you need it in an electronic format ahead of time?” or:
  • “We’d like to show a movie to the class. What do I need to know about avoiding your seizure triggers?”
  • Don’t worry about making someone feel different. We know we’re disabled, and we know we are different.
  • What we can’t count on is having our access needs met so that we can actually do what we need to do.
  • Being willing to talk about access *and follow up on it* makes a big difference
  • Having to initiate access conversations all the time is exhausting (particularly since people tend to react very poorly to being asked to accommodate our needs)

Similarly, if you notice discrimination, let them know that you see it too, and, if appropriate, respond to it:

  • Eg: If you see someone treat a disabled friend or coworker in a degrading ableist way, it’s ok to say to them “Wow. That was horrible how he treated you. I’m sorry that happened.”
  • It can be really, really helpful to know that other people are seeing it too
  • It’s much less helpful if you’re looking for brownie points for noticing though; that can become another microaggression

Sometimes questions are ok, but some questions are really creepy:

  • We don’t like being everyone’s education objects or self-narrating zoo exhibits
  • But a lot of us are happy to answer certain kinds of questions
  • Eg: I’m generally happy to talk about my vision, my movement issues, cognitive stuff, and stimming, so long as the questions are asked respectfully and it’s clear that the person will back off if I don’t want to answer.
  • Do not ask questions that are aimed at investigating/debunking or the like. For instance “Why are you using a wheelchair? I saw you walk! Do you really need it?” is an obnoxious question. So is “Why can’t you look at me when I talk to you? My brother’s son got therapy and now he makes eye contact all the time.” or “Seriously? You’re allergic to *that*? No one had allergies like that when I was a kid. Why all these allergies all of a sudden?” or asking someone to answer a bunch of questions with their communication device in an attempt to trip them up.
  • Do not ask creepy questions. For instance: asking someone how they have sex, asking someone how they go to the bathroom, asking someone detailed questions about their body (particularly if you’re asking about body parts covered by clothing)
  • Back off if they don’t want to answer the question
  • They do not owe you an explanation of anything disability-related, or of why they’d rather not talk about things
  • Do not ask questions in order to assuge your own fears (eg: don’t ask someone how they became disabled if what you’re really asking is “please reassure me that this can’t happen to me”.)
  • Do not ask someone to justify choices they make about mobility, treatment, therapy, diet, health, how they move or anything else disability-related.
  • Do not ask someone to justify their desire to have children. Particularly, if you know someone is trying to get pregnant, do NOT ask them whether what they have is genetic.
  • (Yes, I know about gluten-free diets. No, I will not be trying one. No, I will not be explaining why.)

It’s ok to notice equipment.

  • People who use mobility equipment know that they use mobility equipment
  • Really
  • This is not news to them
  • Admitting that you also notice will not be a sudden revelation to them that they are different
  • It’s not nice to ask nosy questions. But if someone, say, puts a bumper sticker on their battery box, it’s ok to notice and comment on said bumper sticker
  • If someone gets an awesome new cane, it’s ok to say you like the flower print on it
  • Just, generally speaking, you do not have to pretend mobility equipment is invisible

Also, acknowledge that being unaware of disability issues is a problem, and work on solving it. Don’t make your awareness the responsibility of your disabled friends or coworkers; this is your job, not theirs. If they choose to help you understand, they’re doing you a favor; appreciate it and don’t lean on them too heavily. Read things. Ask people who have chosen to make themselves available for education. Realize that being unaware of disability issues is a major gap in your understanding of the world, and seek to address it.

Don’t take the accessible seats if you don’t need them

A lot of places have a few designated accessible seats, for instance:

  • Movie theaters will often have some seats next to wheelchair seating areas.
  • Bathrooms often have one accessible stall and several more inaccessible stalls
  • Busses usually have designated seating near the front for folks with disabilities

If you don’t need the accessibility features of the designated seats, it’s important not to sit in them. 

Because even if you’re willing to move, people don’t know that. A lot of people who sit in those seats are not willing to move, and become belligerent when people ask them to, particularly if they are not using mobility equipment. People who need the seats have no way of knowing how you will react. By sitting there, you are putting people in the position of having to decide whether risking asking you to move is more dangerous than risking going without the seat.

Do not do this to people.

Leave folks with service dogs alone

Related to your last post, no matter how much you like dogs, it is not okay to touch someone’s service dog without permission and if they say no, one needs to accept that. Also, not every person with a service dog wants to stop and chat about their dog with you.

More about respectful therapy

This applies to both adults and children. Respect is really important.

Some of what this means is:

Understand that people who need therapy are going to have trouble with it sometimes:

  • People who have therapy have it because some things are hard for them. This is normal and should be expected in a therapy context.
  • Being in therapy doesn’t make things easy. It just means someone is getting help learning something
  • Expect that it’s going to be hard for the person you’re teaching to learn the things you are teaching them
  • And sometimes they will have trouble in ways you didn’t anticipate
  • When they are having more trouble than you expect, don’t get angry
  • And don’t make fun of them
  • And don’t accuse them of being lazy or wasting your time
  • And especially, don’t tell them that if they’d just *try*, they’d be able to do it
  • Help them find a way to figure out how to do the thing.
  • This means sometimes you might have to spend an hour or hours searching for a way to successfully explain something you think of as simple or obvious
  • This is part of your job. You’re there to help people figure out how to do things, and sometimes that’s hard.
  • It’s not ok to get angry at or frustrated with someone when they’re having trouble understanding something. If you’re feeling that way, it’s your problem and not theirs, and you need to find help dealing with it.
  • Treat people with consistent respect. That makes a huge difference.

Respect your client’s priorities:

  • Adults in therapy get to decide which things they want to work on
  • If they want help with one thing, and you think something else would be more helpful, it’s their call and not yours
  • It’s ok to tell them what you’d advise and why
  • It’s not ok to coerce them into doing what you want
  • It’s also not ok to treat them as less-than-human or unworthy of help if their priorities are different from yours
  • For instance, someone might care about reducing pain but not especially care about walking
  • Or someone might care about nutrition for cognitive functioning but not especially care about weight loss
  • And they get to decide that

Kids in therapy also have agency

  • Kids don’t get to decide everything the way adults do, but what they want still matters
  • It’s important to acknowledge that they have opinions and priorities
  • And it’s important to listen seriously. Sometimes they know something you don’t, and sometimes listening will change your opinion of what they should be doing in therapy
  • And sometimes, their opinions and priorities should be respected even if you think they are making a mistake
  • This is especially true of teenagers
  • Don’t equate kids with their parents. Sometimes kids and parents disagree. Listening to the parents isn’t enough
  • Do listen to the parents, though. They probably know relevant things about your child that you don’t know. Not always, but usually.