Hey, the clients are just doing their job
Many of us come into the field of human services because we want to help change the world. We want to make life better for others. Let’s face it, none of us go into it for the money! I have seen so many bright-eyed new staff members come on board only to be shocked, disappointed, or even hurt when they discover that not everyone wants their help. Every person with a disability is not cute and cuddly. Some can be rude, insulting, and even violent, not unlike the rest of the world. People who are new to the field often take this realization personally, becoming insulted and discouraged.
Audrey, my mentor “back in the day”, told me something that I’ve used almost every day of my professional life since. She told me that it is the client’s job to do their thing and our job is to deal with it. The client’s thing could be self injuring, hitting, stealing, lying, or any number of other unhelpful or offensive behaviors. Our job as staff members is to anticipate dangers, deal with injuries, break up fights, find stolen items, or whatever was necessary. I have even come to see at it as a battle of wits in which the other person always has the drop on me. He or she knows what is about to happen and I never do. I will always be one step behind. Looking at it this way takes the sting out of it a bit. It can still be aggravating or stressful at times, but it’s much less hurtful.
One of my favorite adversaries in a battle of wits is a young man I worked with (let’s call him Mike) who has Prader-Willi Syndrome . PSW is a genetically caused disability which causes a obcession with food and an inability to identify when one is full. The person has a strong compulsion to eat, driving him or her to do whatever is necessary to find food. Other symptoms include a low IQ, difficulty managing changes, and perseverating. Although he could drive me berserk on occasion, I very much enjoyed working with him. Mike is a very cunning. I often said, “If only Mike could use his intelligence for the forces of good, there would be no telling how far he could go in life. No matter how hard I tried to anticipate his every move, he was always one step ahead of me. In keeping with the “Audrey Philosophy” Mike’s job is to find the food and my job is to stop him.
I thought if my snacks were not in plain sight he would not be able to find them so I stuck them in my desk. He found them. I bought a refrigerator with a lock. It was a mini fridge with a bolt at the bottom that went through a V-shaped bracket at the bottom when the key was turned. That worked for a little while but then the bracket was bent. I kept straightening the “V” but it kept getting bent back down. One time I even found gum in the bracket to prevent it from latching. Then I decided that we would lock everyone’s lunch in the kitchen. I set the door’s knob to be permanently locked, only to be opened with a key. Mike discovered that if one didn’t pull hard when closing the door it would not click. It appeared to be locked but in fact could be easily pushed open. We had to purchase trash cans that clanged when opening and closing and be certain that it was not too close to the wall. If the hinge was too close to the wall the lid would remain open granting easy access to the treasures inside. I would move the trashcan away from the wall but it always managed to get back . Then I placed a piece of wood behind the can to prevent it from getting too close to the wall. Occasionally that piece of wood would get up and walk away, but I made sure it always found its way back.
Waging this and other battles was how I spent much of my day. People who are not “in the biz” would ask me how I could stand it. But in applying the “Audrey philosophy” I look at it as more of a contest in which Mike will always have the upper hand. When he finds the food he’s just accomplished his job. I have to tell myself, “OK, he won that round, but tomorrow would bring the next battle and a new opportunity to win.”