Job qualifications.

Standard

Actually I do have something to write about, I just forgot it. I hope I haven’t already written about it and forgotten. If so, I’m writing it twice. I planned before to write about it and never got around to it (or else got around to it and then forgot).

I was talking to my case manager the other day about the job my support staff do, and the sorts of experiences that do and don’t tend to qualify them for the job. And they’re not what most people tend to think. I in fact prefer people who have not had a ton of human services experience before, because that often means a lot of things to unlearn. (There are of course exceptions.)

The people who tend to do the job best are people who’ve done jobs that have involved practical, often physical work that requires them to be observant of their surroundings and adaptable to situations that might crop up, through their own thinking rather than through a rote script someone’s written for what to do. So the characteristics that tend to be good are practicality, observance, and adaptability.

Those things mean that even if someone’s never heard of autism before, they’re more likely to observe a situation and figure out what to do in it regardless of what they’ve been taught. They mean that if they’re pushing my wheelchair up a hill or something and start bumping into a lip in the sidewalk, they aren’t going to continue ramming me into it until I fall out, they’re going to figure out on their own how to tilt the wheelchair backwards. And they’re probably not likely to store things out of my reach, either. And if they do, they’re likely to learn not to pretty fast.

Those “little things” are more important in everyday life than whether they understand the theory of any given disability category, or than whether they can spout all the politically correct words about disability, or whether they have 20 years of experience “working with” autistic people or whatever. Most of the best staff I’ve had have started out knowing very little of any of that stuff, but seen the situations and adapted to them as they happened. And some of the worst have been the ones who would seem the most qualified to a casual observer. I bounced this off my neighbor, who also has support staff, and she agreed. The qualifications for this job are not always what people think they are.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Physically and cognitively disabled. Anything you hear in the media or gossip is likely to be oversimplified at best and wildly inaccurate at worst, the only way to get to know me is to actually know me. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died a couple years ago and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

24 responses »

  1. I couldn’t agree more. It’s not about “theory” learning – or learning about autism, in this case, in a classroom that makes one ready to teach or assist others. I’ve seen it all too often with therapists and often the best ones are the ones with little training, but with a great deal of what you describe in this post.

  2. 100% agree! I started as a parent of an Aspergers boy, and then got into teaching in Special Needs. Too many people – especially ‘professionals’ – ‘categorise’ others, instead of watching, listening and learning about individuals. ‘Amateurs’ with sense are much more use!

  3. I’ve never had staff and don’t need it. Most of my experience with disability professionals was in school as a kid. My favorite were the ones who left me alone the most. While that probably doesn’t sound particularly helpful to the people who need staff, the ones who didn’t try to help me would probably be the best ones to help people who could really use it.

    W scary amount of people wouldn’t let a little thing like me managing just fine without them stand in the way of them helping me. Since I don’t need treatment or regular assistance, they’d go out of their way to discover or invent some extra little quirk that they could pass off as a problem and devote themselves to curing. This wasn’t always bad (learning to pick up pens with my toes was actually kind of fun, if pointless), but meant there was always this extra wall of adult concerns between my self and my life (dealing with the “problems” of me wanting to climb the jungle gym, having sloppy handwriting, participating in the fire drill, and just about everything).

    The ones who left me alone seemed to get the point that help is for those who need it, when they need it, and not a way of making the helper look important. That being the crippled girl didn’t make me their property or territory, and that if I didn’t need their help, there was no point in them insisting. When someone needs help, the best person to go to is someone whose main goal is to give some useful help, not any of the other nonsense that gets in the way.

  4. off topic sort of, but this is why I feel that a politician with less “experience” of having been around the Senate or House block………might do us all better.

    drat……lost the rest of my words……………….

    and have to finish my spanish homework.

    Ivan

  5. “It’s not about “theory” learning – or learning about autism, in this case, in a classroom that makes one ready to teach or assist others.”

    I disagree. I have seen people working without the pre-requisite theoretical knowledge on what autism is, and how it comes about and so on… the ones I’ve met have been as useless as those people who have all the theory and cannot marry it to practical aspects of working with people. The correct training marries the theory and the practice together. It doesn’t push out theory in order to show practical ‘tricks’ (which is all it can be if the mechanisms by which techniques work are not understood by those using them).

    “Too many people – especially ‘professionals’ – ‘categorise’ others, instead of watching, listening and learning about individuals.”

    Yes. Using nomothetic approaches to issues gets that result. Grounded theory approaches allow you to learn far more than a nomothetic one will.

    “‘Amateurs’ with sense are much more use!”

    No. Amateurs who can learn the theory give then ‘why’ to the ‘how’ of the practical… THEY are those with the usefulness.

  6. Definitely agree and it’s one reason I know I would be rubbish at this sort of work. I can do the viewing people as individuals with no problem, but I am very impractical and with an awful short term memory.

  7. I would add though that, regarding the “not knowing the politically correct words” that there is a huge difference between someone who doesn’t know (but is able to learn) and someone who willfully chooses to not learn in that area.

  8. I noticed the same thing about counselors. I had one counselor who specialized in autism, and she was awful – constantly nagging me about various minor habits of mine (like nose-picking or picking scabs) and completely ignoring the fact that I’d come to counseling to deal with abuse issues. Then I had a counselor who specialized in sexual assault, and knew absolutely nothing about autism, and she was great. It’s generally recognized in a lot of abuse counseling that listening to the person is important, and she accepted that I was the expert on my autisticness. Of course, I’d have preffered someone who had all that *and* knew about autism, but I couldn’t get anyone like that.

  9. “Amateurs who can learn the theory give then” -> “Amateurs who can learn the theory that gives them”

  10. I’d like to second Joel Smith’s comment, and add another caveat.

    There’s a difference between not knowing or using the “politically correct” words, and not being willing to change language that you know bothers the listener. For instance, it’s obnoxious to call someone a “person with autism” if you specifically know that particular person would rather you call them “autistic”, no matter how PC and “people-first” the unwanted version is.

    Speaking with respect isn’t learned off a checklist from a university course or a human resources manual; it’s learned by listening to the people you want to show respect to, and learning what they consider respectful.

  11. “Speaking with respect isn’t learned off a checklist from a university course or a human resources manual; it’s learned by listening to the people you want to show respect to, and learning what they consider respectful.”

    To be honest, learning to listen properly IS something taught in university courses (I know… I attended counselling courses during my psychology training); what happens after the training ends is up to the person leaving the programme, and it is their respnsibility as to whether they implement the skills they learned. It’s not enough to say what you said and expect that to be true: it simply isn’t true. What you said implies that only those that a worker wants to listen to are worth that sort of engagement. Learning to listen – as taught on a good university counselling course – teaches you to transfer that ability to everyone with whom one comes into contact.

  12. University, schmuniversity. Some courses may teach how to go through the *motions* of what *looks* like listening, but unfortunately giving a crap about one’s fellow human can’t be learned or even gotten into the habit of for very long. When people are able to stop worrying about whether or not they come off as “experts”, they’re much more likely to be open to recognizing the practicalities of human needs — and not be terrified of them.

    I’ve noticed that situations in which communication or physical accommodations, or both, are the least hindered, are intimate situations in which the people involved either sincerely respect each other or have a specific task that *needs* to be carried out, and there’s nobody else looking.

  13. “ome courses may teach how to go through the *motions* of what *looks* like listening, but unfortunately giving a crap about one’s fellow human can’t be learned or even gotten into the habit of for very long.”

    And most people, without the training in how to do it (let alone how to LOOK like they’re doing it), are crap at it.

    Get used to it: you’d be pissed off if your doctor didn’t have training in medicine; anyone working with autistic people should have appropriate training, like it or not.

    The quality of what the person does when trained RESTS WITH THEM, not the the trainer, nor the training course s/he presented, and nor indeed the university that hosted the course.

    And in case you’re wondering what do I know about it… well, I designed a course that took a set of people from knowing nothing about how to approach an autistic person and be able to appropriately support that person to being able to do it well enough to see positive effects in that person’s life; the same course was presented at Finland’s top research school for autistic students, and similar results ensued there.

    What did I teach?

    Theory.

    Why?

    Because without knowing why someone has to do what they do, they will only go through the motions. When the know WHY they are doing it, they tend to be more reflective on their work.-

    So, Evonne, stuff your anti-university attitude. You’re out of order on that one.

  14. “giving a crap about one’s fellow human can’t be learned or even gotten into the habit of for very long.”

    I agree that learning to give a crap can’t be accomplished by reading a packet or watching a Powerpoint presentation. But I have seen a lot of people learn to do this as part of their college life. Not that you can only learn this by going to college, obviously. Students weren’t taught how to give a crap, per se, but being exposed to the very idea that there ARE people who are oppressed in various ways, and that you have some responsibility for that, and that there are things you can do to help ameliorate that, often changes people’s attitudes.

    As far as learning to APPEAR as if you are listening, I think it is important, and I learned it in a training session. If you do care but the person you’re talking to can’t tell by your body language and tone of voice, you may not be able to connect with them well enough to figure out how to be helpful. Practicing this kind of thing in role-plays (after reading a dry manual) taught me to be a lot better at this than I used to be. Also I darn well hope that the classes and supervision I’ll be recieving over the next few years will help me be better at it than I am now.

  15. And by the way, Mr. Andrews, I just can’t resist telling you that you’re oodles of fun. Heh, what was it, “schmuniversity” that set you off? I’ve been resisting mentioning it because it’s frankly irrelevant and sort of undermines my original point, but because I’m afraid you think I only take issue because I harbor some sort of resentment-driven “anti-university attitude”, and because the irony is killing me, I’m compelled to add that I in fact am very pro-higher learning. I enjoyed quite a lot my experience at Columbia (plenty of artsy-fartsty weirdos there), and I feel pretty special when I get to write letters and articles on behalf of physicians at Ivy-league medical schools in my current position at a medical society, and I’m rather fond of my huge-ass University Press library and hopelessly fond of my University of Chicago alum husband, and in fact was thrilled to marry him in a gorgeous Gothic chapel right there at The Schmuniversity. In all seriousness, it’s just a little scary when someone makes a statement that – playfulness aside – at its core says, “The problem here is that folks are operating on the basis of ‘I know best because I took a class’, without considering that what their work really comes down to is whether or not they actually * care * about helping the person or simply * appearing * as though they’re in charge”, the answer is very often “But – but I * do * know best because I took a class!” Certainly passing on understanding of autistic perceptions and behaviors is important; of COURSE it’s important. Thanks to folks who bothered to do some research, lots of backasswards assumptions about autistic people that used to be considered just “common knowledge” have been challenged and debunked. But approaching an autistic person with the attitude of “Hey, there’s one of ‘em – time to do all that stuff to ‘im like I learned in school!” without recognizing the person as a sentient being and not, like, a broken toaster or something, is wrong. And that wrongness increases exponentially the more credentials you add, because of the obvious power dynamics. I’d like to think, David, that when you’re educating your students on techniques, you’re continually reminding them that the point of earning credentials is not to flex them all over the place, but to implement them in a manner that’s responsible and respectful – because Human Services is about Serving Humans. I like to think that you’re teaching them that the best way to deal with people is to first and foremost recognize that they’re PEOPLE – and that even, perhaps, when you recognize a student that seems to be in it for the wrong reasons, you encourage him or her to get the hell out. Please.

  16. “I’d like to think, David, that when you’re educating your students on techniques, you’re continually reminding them that the point of earning credentials is not to flex them all over the place, but to implement them in a manner that’s responsible and respectful – because Human Services is about Serving Humans. I like to think that you’re teaching them that the best way to deal with people is to first and foremost recognize that they’re PEOPLE – and that even, perhaps, when you recognize a student that seems to be in it for the wrong reasons, you encourage him or her to get the hell out. Please.”

    I would have thought you’d picked up on that. You know… when I said:

    “What did I teach?

    Theory.

    Why?

    Because without knowing why someone has to do what they do, they will only go through the motions. When the know WHY they are doing it, they tend to be more reflective on their work.”

    I agree that taking a class in something far from makes one an expert in anything. However, at least I have two very strong angles on the whole autism issue: I’m autistic myself, and my MEd in educational psychology has a specialist angle on autism. I’ve lived it for 45 yrs and researched it throughout the duration of my studies over the past 11 yrs of my training as a psychologist. Even here, they can’t get past that as one hell of a qualification to tell them more than they already know.

    Like I say, one course I designed (and not as a qualifying course in any sense of the word) led to an improvement in the services provided to two sets of autistic people being served by certain professional bodies in Finland. And course members are always reminded that their client is first and foremost a person, a human being. Compliance with interventions that the workers themselves would not countenance is never an aim: they have to think of a person as someone in a situation that is not helping him/her to develop in some way… and their job is not to ‘do stuff’ to the person. It’s to find ways to level the playing field off.

  17. “It’s to find ways to level the playing field off.”

    And without actually knowing why the field isn’t level in the first place… that’s impossible to do. Which is why training is important.

  18. “I agree that learning to give a crap can’t be accomplished by reading a packet or watching a Powerpoint presentation. But I have seen a lot of people learn to do this as part of their college life.”

    Exactly, Rachel. I did it from day one with the psychology and counselling studies I took.

    “Not that you can only learn this by going to college, obviously. Students weren’t taught how to give a crap, per se, but being exposed to the very idea that there ARE people who are oppressed in various ways, and that you have some responsibility for that, and that there are things you can do to help ameliorate that, often changes people’s attitudes.”

    Brilliant.

    “As far as learning to APPEAR as if you are listening, I think it is important, and I learned it in a training session.”

    Me too. Many training sessions dealt with listening skills, too… not just looking like I was listening but actually listening. And checking with the person I was listening to as to whether I was getting what they were saying.

    “If you do care but the person you’re talking to can’t tell by your body language and tone of voice, you may not be able to connect with them well enough to figure out how to be helpful.”

    Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more.

    “Practicing this kind of thing in role-plays (after reading a dry manual) taught me to be a lot better at this than I used to be.”

    Same here. Which I why I have a lot more potential clients who can’t afford to pay for my work than I can afford to work with for nothing.

    “Also I darn well hope that the classes and supervision I’ll be recieving over the next few years will help me be better at it than I am now.”

    Indeed. The stuff done in training can be useful to everyone who takes that training course. Like I was trying to say earlier: it’s not the necessarily the training that one should blame for piss-poor attitudes of workers… that blame all to often lies with the workers themselves.

  19. “that blame all to often lies with the workers themselves.” -> “that blame all too often lies with the workers themselves.”

  20. Learning to stay calm is part of the training, as far as I am aware.

    So, yes… the right qualifications indeed.

  21. What it really comes down to is a person’s ability to be an unbiased observer in the moment.

    A person can “care” and have all sorts of good intentions or credentials and still lack an interested perceptiveness(which is helpful in *combination* with caring) that though it can be cultivated, is never so great as that [perceptiveness] which is largely innate. (Not everyone shares the same natural talents.)

    If a person has many credentials, but through the eyes of spoon-fed brain mush they see only an “autistic”, and the *condition*, stereotypes, and assumptions they have been *taught*, they can still fail to relate to (not just them *being* a person) the valuable, interesting, real person with the experience, perceptions, and talents that they Do have.

    It’s the difference between two people, one who sees what is really occurring, or what is motivating another, and another who strictly believes only what they knew before, and have largely learned from rote or the beliefs of others, and allow no novel insights, reading the autistic and their experience through those beliefs only.

  22. To be honest, I’m supervising a postgraduate student conducting research in this sort of area for her M. Ed. degree (Special Education; specialising in autistic difficulties in adult life).

    I’m looking forward to seeing her work reports.

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