Just imagine what a wonderful world it would be if every person felt safe and valued. Maybe, there’d be no more war, sharing of resources and people feeling good about themselves.
John Williams, 53, of Royal Oak, travels throughout
Oakland, Macomb, Wayne counties, and the entire state, using gentle teaching
techniques on those with developmental disabilities and mental illness. In a
majority of cases, the gentle teaching works, he says.
Williams is the executive director of Progressive
Lifestyles Inc., a nonprofit in Waterford, which provides those trained in
gentle teaching to help the disabled and mentally ill learn to build healthy
He also is one of the founders of the Center for Positive
Living Supports, which is under contract with the state Department of Community
Health to bring the “Culture of Gentleness” to those in need.
Williams has built on the techniques used on consumers of
the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center by the late John McGee.
“We try to make people feel safe, valued and loved by
interacting with them on a positive basis and often enough so that a
relationship is built on praise, self-affirmation and touch,” Williams said.
Other concepts of gentle teaching include praise which can
be through telling someone ‘thanks’ or ‘you did a good job’ or an encouraging
pat on the back.
“We try to have the people we work with learn to trust us
and we give them unconditional valuing,” he said.
Williams says a key element of gentle teaching is “lowering
“Oftentimes, caregivers and everyone in society are not
aware of how demanding we are of others,” he said. “Instead of saying ‘how are
you?’ when we see someone, we ask them if they picked up the mail, cleaned a
room or emptied the dishwasher.
“We frequently place too many demands on people and not
Gentle teaching also includes creating structure “so that
an individual knows what is expected of him or her. This creates less anxiety.
We offer people in our (group) homes, for example, a choice of a bath or shower
or a snack now or later. This empowers them.”
Williams also says life is full of transitions and the more
information a person has about where they are going to live or work, the better
“We make mini-plans to give people we work with information
they need. We up the praise and lower expectations until the person is
“This is how to build healthy relationships with your
fellow man or woman.”
Jerry Wolffe is the
Disability Rights Advocate at Large/Writer in Residence at the Macomb-Oakland
Regional Center. He can be reached at 586-263-8950.