20 September, 2010

Let me be played

I think that expectations for staff should be based in service not control. Which is to say you should try to give someone what they want not what you think they need. The obvious response to this is "but some people run out in traffic" and that's definitely true; obviously control is called for in some cases. But I feel like staff should start from a place of trying to serve people and then if the person is actually in danger, you can try to stop that specific situation. I think controlling someone should be something you decide to do in an emergency, not something you're expected to do as a regular part of your job. I think staff should be judged on whether the people they work with are satisfied and happy.

I was reading some of Roia's posts at The Mindful Music Therapist about how she felt really judged by the staff of someone she was a therapist for because her client kept taking her clothes off during therapy sessions. She felt like they thought she wasn't competent because she wasn't able to keep the person from doing that.

This is really depressing to me because I think there are a lot of motives for someone taking their clothes off that would actually reflect well on the staff person/therapist/teacher they did that with. I'm not saying it's good that someone strips, but it could mean that they feel safe, or in my experience it could mean that they want to play a trick on their staff person and see how they respond. I feel like if someone is trying to fuck with you, that's a pretty good sign of the person wanting to relate with you and learn more about you, and also to my mind can indicate that the person is confident about expressing themselves and initiating connection with other people.

So why would anyone be seen as incompetent because a person she was working with did that?

There were some times at camp when I'd be really pissed at someone and then I would realize, "I'm upset because I'm trying to stop a man twice my age from carrying his tape player with him to breakfast. What the fuck is wrong with me?"

The answer is, a lot.

Presumably in Real Life I don't get pissed at people for carrying tape players around. Actually, a person who carries a tape player around sounds like someone I would really like. And also, if I was the parent of an adult (that is, if I was an authority figure but without the policies/rules that someone like a staff person has) I can't imagine getting pissed at my son for wanting to carry around a tape player.

One reason a person might get angry would be if they think another person is angry at them or is trying to upset them. I knew that David generally liked me and we were having a conflict because he wanted to have his tape player, not because he wanted to disagree with me for the sake of disagreeing. So that doesn't explain why I was angry.

I should mention that when I say I was angry, I don't mean that I actually yelled at anyone, but just that I realized I wanted to, and then generally backed down and felt incredibly creepy and messed up. This happened probably three times, fully, but I think there were several campers who I resented on a low level even if I tried to be positive and get along with them on the surface.

I know that staff people can't always have positive feelings toward the people they work with, because some people just don't click with each other. But in retrospect, I think that I resented a lot of people not because of anything they were or did, but because I felt I would be judged for the things they couldn't or didn't do. This was a big problem with people who were slow or spacey or had a very specific way of doing things--I would be thinking, "fuck, we're going to be late for [breakfast/activity/etc.] and people [i.e. staff] are going to think I'm not competent" or "people are going to patronize me because I can't get three people showered in forty minutes"--or, with David, "people are going to think I'm a bad counselor if David is sitting there listening to his tape player instead of participating in activities."

Which is a sign that I'd gotten the impression my environment valued control above service.* When I felt like I would get in trouble or be judged if I couldn't compel my campers to do things a certain way, that caused me to take completely innocent behavior personally. Like lots of people, David often preferred listening to music to interacting with a group--but when I felt like my job entailed getting everyone to interact in a group, wanting to listen to music became something David was doing to me. When he wouldn't participate the way I was expected to be able to get him to, then I felt I looked bad, and ended up thinking things like, "Why does he have to be so selfish? Can't he think about how his behavior affects me?"

Which is really bad because it meant that totally normal and inoffensive things about David became a source of conflict, and made our relationship less positive. Although I think we had a good relationship overall, it would certainly have been better if I hadn't been stressed about how his personality traits were going to affect me. I could certainly have served him better than I did.

*I don't want to sound so critical of the place where I worked. For example, during orientation we were told, "Some campers with autism or OCD may obsess over checking things or may want to do things a certain number of times. We have all the time in the world--if it makes someone feel better, then do stuff a certain number of times." But despite this, I still ended up feeling pressured to control my campers, and I know I wasn't the only one.

I can't let that happen though. I think my goal as a staff person should be to be patronized by other staff. I want people to tell me I'm gullible and a pushover and I'm not being professional. He's not really sick. He's not really in pain. You can't just let him do what he wants all the time! You have to hurry him up. Oh, he tries to get people's attention all the time, just ignore it. Why is he all the way over there? What is he doing? She shouldn't be talking to you like that. He's playing you.

One time at the ABA school I saw a kid tracing squares on the carpet and I reached out to do the same. His teacher said, "Don't do that! You're encouraging him."

Fuck, I hope so.


  1. First, I was reading your post and was surprised to find you had read mine, so thank you for reading my blog. Second, thank you for the moral support/backing. This really is a tough issue, and I notice that somewhere else (in another post) in your "recommended reading" you linked to Dave Hingsburger (whose work has been very helpful to me) talking about silence with regard to abuse (and a whole lot of other stuff).

    Direct support staff are often put in the position of being expected to "make" their clients do whatever it is the schedule says they're supposed to be doing. On top of that, they are taught that control is the only way that's going to happen.

    It's insane-making, because it's an incredibly disrespectful way of interacting with other human beings. And it's hard not to get sucked into that sick vortex of "we must get you to do x, y, or z" or suffer the consequences (i.e., get in trouble with management because their clients don't look like "good little clients", get crap from fellow staff people for not getting their clients "under control" and for being pushovers). It's a toxic system, and, as I said, insane-making.

    I see my job as one in which I try to learn about my clients (as apparently do you). Why might this person need to do what s/he is doing? How is it important? And so forth. It's not my job to come in and decide who this person is going to be. I agree, people can't run out in traffic, people can't violently attack other people, but there's a reason it's happening, and the reason is NOT "because s/he is disabled" (which is what I regularly hear when I invite people to think it through with me).

    I probably need to stop ranting and raving now, but I mostly wanted to say that I appreciate your post.

  2. I had some experiences like the last one. They told me not to "encourage" this one kid by making stimmy gestures back at him when he made them at me. They said he wasn't really communicating, but I felt it was clear he wanted to connect with me.

    I kind of kept doing it anyway but more subtly, and then later I was the staff person he tusted most. I wonder why?

  3. Also, three showers in 40 minutes? I can't even get myself showered in 15 minutes.

  4. I knoww. Plus I was prompting them for everything/doing some stuff--I ended up getting soaked as well--and then when I mentioned to another counselor that my cabin was basically not able to do any activities the whole morning, she was like, "You gotta hurry them up."

    Yeah. Thanks. It's not like I'm sitting there reading a book while they're showering.

    Roia I appreciate you commenting (and I appreciate your whole blog) I just have trouble responding to long stuff without a lot of thought but I'm not ignoring you.

  5. Fear not, Amanda. I'm aware of my extreme verbosity. Thanks for the blog compliment. It is much appreciated!