In the United States today, approximately one in six children ages 3 through 17 have some type of developmental disability. These disabilities are due to an impairment in physical, language, behavior, or learning areas and typically impact an individual's day to day functioning. Although about 15% of children in the United States have at least one developmental disability, there are often limited opportunities for these kids as they grow into adulthood and leave the school system. For those who are fortunate enough to have access to services to fill their days-- either through a job adapted for them, volunteer work, or living in a group home filled with structured activities-- challenges may still arise. Often, these challenges occur when those who come into contact with adults who have developmental disabilities don't understand how to effectively communicate with them-- or their case managers, guardians, and caretakers.
In an effort to combat this lack of un derstanding, below are some tips for successfully communicating and interacting with adults with developmental disabilities in the workplace:
- Speak directly to the person. Avoid addressing the caregiver instead of the adult with a developmental disability. Make eye contact and be warm and welcoming. Additionally, avoid speaking to the person like she is a child. Treat her like you would any other adult in the workplace.
- Use plain, direct language. Don't speak quickly or use jargon when talking to an adult with a developmental disability. Keep sentences short and to the point. Use explicit directions. For example, instead of saying "Get ready to head outside", say, "Please put your coat on."
- Be a good listener. Allow plenty of time for the person to explain himself to you. Carefully listen to what he says and pay special attention to nonverbal cues and tone of voice. When you don't understand something, tell him.
- Respect the desire for independence. Many adults with developmental disabilities attempt to be as independent as possible. If you notice that your co-worker with a developmental disability is struggling with a task, however, feel free to offer your assistance. If she turns down your offer, respect that decision too.
- Be yourself. Don't constantly worry about whether you're doing or saying the right things around an adult with a developmental disability. Use your normal tone of voice and body language. Be relaxed, offer smiles, and make the person feel included.
- Offer explanations. Before something occurs, take the time to explain to your co-worker with a developmental disability what is going to happen. Tell him exactly what you are going to do and why. Speak slowly and pause frequently. Then check for understanding.
For more information on job opportunities working with the developmentally disabled, please contact us.
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