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MSC's Guide to Interacting with Residents

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St. Thomas More SD Team Mission Volunteers

Mustard Seed Communities cares for individuals who have a wide range of disabilities. One of the main goals when mission volunteers and residents interact is to make sure that everyone is comfortable. This guide will help you to interact successfully with the residents of Mustard Seed Communities.

Disability does not mean inability

The residents of MSC are amazing individuals who are capable of many things which they demonstrate in many different ways.

Everyone deserves to be treated with equal respect and kindness

The interactions that you experience with residents may be different than others that you experience in your life. However, it is important to remember that regardless of disability, all individuals should be respected as you would respect anyone else.

Be patient and compassionate

Be understanding when interacting with individuals with disabilities. Remember that the challenges that those with disabilities face may create difficulties in the way they interact with you. Keep this in mind and have patience if situations ever get stressful or difficult.

Take cues from the residents

If they look like they want to be alone, let them be. If they want to interact with you, follow their lead.

Never be afraid to ask a caregiver or staff member a question if you are unsure about something

The way you should interact with residents often depends on what type of disability that they have. If you aren’t sure whether something is appropriate or allowed, ask someone to clarify.

Treat the MSC residents like anyone else

Residents LOVE spending time with mission volunteers and want to have as much fun as anyone else.

Communication barriers are normal

You may not always understand what a resident is trying to communicate to you, and that's okay. Between the different ways of speaking in the country you are visiting and possible speech impediments, a mishap in communication is not abnormal. If you have tried your hardest and still cannot understand what someone is trying to communicate to you, try redirecting to a different topic or activity in a polite manner.

Have a positive and open attitude! Be ready to try new things and participate in activities that the residents want to do

Different Disabilities and How to Interact with Residents Who Have Them

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder that affects how individuals interact and communicate with those around them. The symptoms of ASD are viewed on a spectrum which means that they range in severity and characteristics depending on the individual and where they fall on the spectrum. Some with ASD may be sensitive to sensory stimulation and therefore residents may not like to be touched. ASD is also characterized by challenges with social skills and communication.

The way you interact with a resident with ASD depends a lot on the cues that they give you. Make sure to be calm and respectful of boundaries. If they look like they want to be alone, let them be. If they want to interact with you, follow their lead. Residents will often have their favorite games or activities that they want you to participate in, so be willing to play or take part in whatever they are interested in. Also make sure to speak in clear, simple words and use a strong, confident voice.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy is a neurological disorder that affects motor development, body movement, muscle tone, posture and the ability to move while maintaining balance and posture. It is important to remember to move slowly and carefully when working physically with those who have Cerebral Palsy to make sure that they are not harmed. While it is a neurological disorder, residents with CP often are not mentally disabled. This means residents with CP may be able to interact verbally or through signals and other cues. If you are unsure of something, you can always ask a caregiver.

Down Syndrome

Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes intellectual and developmental delays. While Down Syndrome does have physical characteristics, most individuals have a lot of physical ability. Some characteristics of Down Syndrome may include cognitive and behavioral issues. Symptoms range in severity depending on the individual but many people with Down Syndrome are very capable of being independent.

Like any other person, they can be impulsive. Be patient with them and use clear and simple words. Individuals with Down Syndrome can often be very communicative, so ask them what they want to do. Treat them like you would anyone else!

Residents who Cannot Speak (Nonverbal)

Not being able to communicate verbally can be associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and can occur with other special needs such as Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome and other conditions. These residents rely on “functional communication,” getting basic messages across to address their needs and wants. This means they communicate by using signals and other physical means of communication.

One way to interact with residents who are nonverbal is in a way that they can respond with actions or do not need to respond at all. An example of this could be presenting them with two different colored balls and having them point to which one they want. However, some nonverbal residents may not be able to communicate at all, including the inability to respond physically or verbally. In this case, try ways of interaction that don’t require a response. For example, read them a book, tell them a story, or do a hands on craft with them.

Visual Impairment

Many residents have some degree of visual impairment, from near and farsightedness to blindness. If one of the five senses is impaired, the other four can be heightened. This could mean that a resident with limited vision may be extra sensitive to loud noises. Visual impairment is common in residents with Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy.

When interacting with a resident who is visually impaired, it is important to remember to do so in a way that doesn’t startle them. When communicating, talk to him or her in a calm, soft voice. Greet the resident when you arrive, tell him or her your name when you approach and always tell them when you are leaving. Also, do not move items that belong to a visually impaired resident. They may have items organized so that they can find them easily. Some activities that you could try when interacting with visually impaired residents could include reading a book, asking them questions, having a conversation, or telling them a story.

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