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Person-Centered: What does this really mean?

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Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA  10.30.19

Let’s think about what we envision when it comes to planning out our lives. How do we make big decisions?  What supports have we had to help us get to where we want to be, or what supports could we have used that we didn’t have?  For people who don’t have unique needs, finding the right path can be a challenge.  But for people who do have some extra needs, finding the right path can be daunting.

Imagine if, during the early phases of your adult life, you had a bunch of people who cared about you sit down for coffee and cake to just talk about you and how they could help you accomplish your goals and dreams for the future.  That is what Person-Centered Planning (PCP) is all about.  For people who have different sets of needs and require more support, the goal of PCP is to gather others who care into a group to discuss what the goals are and who will be able to help.  Ideally, this gathering occurs in a comfortable place with people who are friends, family, community members, and paid staff to help put together ideas and visions with an individual who has unique needs.  This is done by creating visual maps to guide the planning process.

There was a time not long ago when students with special needs were placed on a path by professionals who deemed what would be best for those students.  For many this may have included sheltered workshops, large residential facilities, and limited opportunity for true social inclusion.  With the movement toward person-centered rather than system-centered planning, we have seen tremendous growth in our communities for providing opportunities and acceptance for those with different abilities.

If you are seeking PCP for yourself or someone in your life, make sure you are fully engaged in the process.  To make sure the process is working to provide optimal outcomes, consider these 5 Essential Outcomes for Person-Centered Planning (from Kincaid 1996):

  1.  Community Membership:  To be a member of the community through involvement in various organized activities, especially those that occur on a regular basis.
  2. Relationships:  That relationships with others occur not only in settings with paid staff members but also in the community, with friends, with family, and with other acquaintances.
  3. Choice:  That the individual is at the core of the decision-making process when it comes to his or her life, including friendships, activities, jobs and other community involvement.
  4. Respected roles:  To be able to have roles and responsibilities that will be respected by others.
  5. Skills:  To provide opportunities to learn and foster skills that are needed for a high quality of life.

While many of these outcomes may seem self-evident, for many people who need support there is a process to helping them find and follow this path.  Even with the major advances in our society for people with different needs, there are still thousands of young adults who don’t have direction or support to go after they life they want.

How can you help someone you care about come up with a a plan for life that is person centered?

For people who are still in school, most schools do some form of this as part of transition planning, but they may not always include actual visual maps as part of the process.  If you want to use a broader, more visual process, you may need to look locally to find an outside facilitator.

First, check out local supports that may be available to give you services or provide guidance. Each community has different resources, and the resources available will depend on the needs of the person seeking help.  For example, for people who have autism, there are numerous support groups across the country, some that are independent and some that are part of a bigger national organization, such as the Autism Society of America.  There are also organizations to support other disabilities. The National Down Syndrome Society has independent, local support chapters throughout the country.  The ARC is another national organization with chapters in hundreds of communities.  These resources can help you and your family find out more about what’s available in your own community for building support.  For additional resources and support, try the National Parent Center on Transition and Employment.

Also, connect with other local families who have been through this process and have found some support and success.  Sometimes it can be difficult to navigate the educational and service worlds.  Other families may have valuable insights and experiences to share with you.  You may find it easier to connect with other families by engaging with the organizations noted above, or you may meet them through schools or extracurricular activities.

No matter how you approach the person-centered design the outcome of finding the right path will be worth the effort you put into the process.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more posts!



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