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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Little Friends: Trauma support and its impact on people with intellectual disabilities

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Every month I try to write about something positive about the people we serve with disabilities, and the work done by so many to be of support to their needs. This month as I sit down at the keyboard, my mind can’t get away from a presentation I observed given by Dr. Karyn Harvey with the Park Avenue Group. Dr. Harvey was invited to present at the 2023 ANCOR Annual Conference in Chicago that just concluded in late April dealing with supporting organizations like Little Friends with skill development and pertinent topics to help move our organization and industry forward.

Why I’m circling back to Dr. Harvey’s presentation is that I learned about the impact of trauma in an individual’s life. Where I hadn’t “connected the dots” related to how trauma affects an individual with disabilities is that there are real-life things that cause trauma to occur.

Things like sexual or physical abuse, bullying, exclusion, and even institutionalization are common causes. What was noted when discussing these traumas is that there is no real training to help the people we serve deal with these issues.

While the events noted above are considered “major,” and rightfully so, there are smaller events that when they are combined with one or more can create the same kind of reaction and behavior caused by major trauma. Things like discrimination, neighborhood violence, social exclusion, family exclusion and frequent foster care placements all lead to some kind of trauma. What was interesting to me in listening to Dr. Harvey was the point that not feeling safe is the foundation of several trauma situations, and that isolation creates vulnerability (not feeling safe). This was, in her opinion, a root cause to be aware of and address if required.

So how does this apply to Little Friends?

Over a year ago, I was asked to support an initiative to begin training our teachers on the impact of trauma on the children we work with at our school. I had been told that better than half of the children we worked with were estimated to have some kind of trauma in their lives, and the training to better understand how this has affected the children we work with will benefit everyone. Most important, the training focused on the importance of creating positive interactions for our children, with the idea that positive interactions on a continual basis help an individual overcome these traumas. It is called “Neuroplasticity” and it involves helping the brain rewire itself over time. For those reading this and wanting to learn more, we have been working with Dr. Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist who has been directly involved with this area of study.

So, back to the story and what did I do? I agreed to the investment because I knew it was considered a leading-edge initiative. Our teachers are learning how to identify potential situations and deal with trauma from a new vantage point. It is a good thing to do, and I’m so pleased the investment opportunity was presented to me.

Yet, I am humbled to admit I really didn’t understand the good this training opportunity represented. Dr. Harvey’s presentation opened my eyes to the importance of understanding how trauma can affect an individual, and how it can affect people with disabilities where a behavior may really be a reaction to a situation that represents the person not feeling safe.

Big picture, what a valuable lesson I learned, and hopefully provides you as the reader something to think about in the time ahead.

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Mike Briggs
Mike Briggshttp://littlefriendsinc.org
Mike Briggs is the President and CEO of Little Friends. Little Friends empowers clients with autism and other developmental disabilities to thrive in our community. Their groundbreaking programs and nationally-renowned staff provide lifelong opportunities for growth, so their clients can work, learn, play and experience the joy of life’s everyday moments.
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