Breaking Barriers: Interacting with Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Breaking down the barriers of interaction with adults with developmental disabilities

Breaking down the barriers of interaction with adults with developmental disabilities

Opengate joins in celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but has also learned from our individuals that there are still barriers to overcome, whether with issues of accommodation or other issues regarding treatment by others.  Collectively we have work to do toward the acceptance of all, equally.  As among non-disabled individuals, individuals with disabilities are diverse and richly complex.

Interaction skills may be taken for granted, but comprise many learned responses and may also be informed by preconceived ideas we have about others, including about individuals with developmental or other disabilities.  Just as with learning a new language, effective communication can be learned by considering some simple tips:

  • Determine as best as possible if the person has cognitive/learning/understanding issues and/or speech/communication challenges and ask in some form: How can I be best understood?  How can I best understand you?
  • Avoid speaking louder than usual, but speak slowly and concisely.  Use clear, concrete language and avoid abstract or conceptual ideas until you have a full grasp of the person’s ability to understand.
  • Speak directly to the person in a developmentally appropriate way: At Opengate we serve adults.  That said, there is a diverse group noted to have intellectual abilities from mild to more severe or profound.  Match the level of the listener as much as possible.  For someone with a mild intellectual disability you would naturally avoid talking in childish language.  For someone with more significant intellectual disability, simpler language and tone that is more expressive may be appropriate and more engaging.
  • As Opengate serves a large cohort on the Autism Spectrum, we understand that some individuals may or may not maintain or tolerate sustained eye gaze/contact.
  • Be patient and allow the person to process and respond.  At Opengate individuals communicate through a variety of means, e.g. spoken language, sign-language, gestures, reading-writing, and increasingly through electronic communication devices, more commonly now with devices used by disabled and non-disabled persons.  Realize that receptive (taking in communication) and expressive language (spoken word, signing, other means of communication) skills may or may not closely match for the individual.  Checking on a basic shared understanding is useful.  Asking periodic clarifying questions about what was said/understood may guide/reshape the conversation.
  • Relax, be yourself, be patient, supportive and treat the individual with dignity.  Don’t miss some nice opportunities to get to know someone because you may be embarrassed or uncertain.  Your communication doesn’t have to be perfect, just thoughtful, respectful and mostly guided by common sense.  Take a chance. Becoming inclusive is a perfect way to establish a rapport with the person and gain (their confidence) from the relationship.

At Opengate we know that those with developmental disabilities have much to contribute and do so every day.  Our mission at Opengate is to aid in the development of adults with disabilities of all types whether physical, developmental or behaviorally based or determined by a combination of factors.  Our programs and services add to that vision to those we serve.  We are committed to breaking down the barriers for all members of our community, and assist them to learn to their full potential.

To stay apprised of the activities going on at Opengate we invite you to follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as subscribe to our Newsletter and Blog.

Opengate is a leader in its field and is recognized by New York State as one of only seven like agencies among thousands that have earned a prestigious COMPASS designation.


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