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Thursday, May 30, 2013

'Gentle Teaching' helps mentally ill, disabled feel safe, valued

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 relationships.
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 demands.”
“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 enough praise.”
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 it is.
“We make mini-plans to give people we work with information they need. We up the praise and lower expectations until the person is comfortable.
“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.