Understanding Rights

Sarah Vanslyke, Director of Quality Assurance

I remember my first apartment. I was very young and I was so proud of the rundown place. One night there was a terrible thunder and lightning storm and it threw me into a panic. I couldn’t get the rickety old kitchen window down for the life of me. I didn’t know what to do until I called my mom who told me to gently tap the corners with a hammer. Lo and behold the window aligned and I was able to close it.

The important part of the window story is that with a little bit of support I learned how to handle the situation. I was exposed to a problem, I got a little education from my mom and the whole episode gave me some experience. After that, I was a little bit more confident when problems arose in my apartment.

At Wildwood, we want people to learn in this same way. We want them to be safely exposed to experiences in life, we want them to learn from those experiences and, through it all, we want them to grow. When we think of “Rights” our minds tend to go toward the thoughts of rules and regulations and statutes about people being permitted to have the freedom to do what they want. That certainly is part of what rights are about but I think there is something more important.

One of the key rights we often talk about is the right for the people we support to be able to do what they want with their money. That is something that adults are simply accustomed to and that is a right the people we support have. What comes up often is– What happens when an adult who receives supports wants to make what we may evaluate as a poor choice about spending? We can offer suggestions and advice but if someone really wants to spend their money on something we don’t agree with, then they have that right.

But what if that purchase will exhaust their funds for the month? What if that purchase will mean that they won’t have money for other things? What if it means it will lead to frustration, yelling or a behavioral struggle?

Well, except in situations that would pose a risk to the safety of the person or others, the person should be allowed to make their choices. If, because of those choices, it later causes them discomfort, our staff can be there to support them. That support can help them gain experience and learn from the situation. Then, that can lead to growth as they gain a greater understanding.

Staff and family members often try to save people from what they deem are bad decisions. Yet, we all learn and grow from decisions, both good and bad, and we shouldn’t deprive people from that process. We can support them through it, help them learn and grow but if we take their choice out of the circumstance, they lose the opportunity to develop deeper as a person.

In a similar way, staff and families get concerned when they don’t approve of who a person chooses to befriend. People have the right to associate with who they want. The same process of experiencing, learning and growing can occur with the support of staff and family. It can be pointed out how some friends make them feel, whether or not they like their behavior when around certain individuals, and if the relationship is a healthy one. Learning, once again, comes through experience.

In some cases, when exercising rights would lead to true harm and danger, the process of restricting rights can be exercised, but this isn’t often. It can be difficult to watch someone make a choice you don’t agree with but at the same time everyone deserves to make their own decisions, get exposed to a variety of experiences, to learn from those experiences and to grow as a person.

Living life to the fullest comes from our variety of experiences and our sense of confidence comes from how we learn. That’s the case whether it is about spending money, choosing friends or closing a kitchen window.


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