Look at Me, Adulting and Stuff
Dec. 15, 2021
Everyone, including those with disabilities, has to “start where they are” with the development of Activities of Daily Living (ADL). The ADLs that are mastered as a child come with you into adulthood, but we all have different childhoods with exposure to different skills. My husband is the second oldest of seven children, so he came into adulthood with experience changing diapers. I grew up on a small farm so I developed some survival skills that others might not have. We had a college student live with us who grew up in southern India. Her first experience using a washing machine occurred at our house as she entered adulthood. We all come into adulthood with different skills, and we need to start where we are with learning the skills that we have not developed yet. Our first step to determining what ADL skills an individual has and what they need to learn next is to look at their paperwork and participate in their team meetings. However, this usually only tells part of the story. Different team members can have differing opinions about a person’s abilities. A classic example of this is an adult sibling of a person with a disability who began attending team meetings. The individuals’ parents said he could not unload the dishwasher, but the sibling responded that the individual could unload the dishwasher because the sibling made him do it when the parents were not at home. The parents were surprised by this revelation, but it illustrates how expectations can have a lot to do with what skills are demonstrated. For this reason, it is helpful for staff to spend a few months observing ADLs before making solid plans of what skills need to be developed. It is also helpful to reassess when a person’s living situation changes. Different skills may be demonstrated in different environments. In my husband’s childhood home, only his mother does the cooking, and she prefers to be in the kitchen alone. To this day, he will not intrude on his mother’s kitchen to help cook, but he will fix dinner several nights a week at our house. Patterns of behavior change when living situations change for everyone. The goal is for everyone to develop and master all the ADLs they can, so they can live as independently as possible. Developing the ability to do ADLs and the motivation to do them daily, weekly or at the interval required for independent living has been termed “Adulting”. Many humorous antidotes have been developed about “adulting”. Most of them center around the lack of motivation to continue doing what you know you should day after day and year after year. Individuals with disabilities face the same challenges when it comes to ADLs. They have to develop the skill to do it effectively and the motivation to continue to do it as often is needed to live independently. Once we have established where the individual needs to start, we can begin to develop a plan for growth. Everyone can develop new skills in daily living and that includes individuals with disabilities. Maybe a person can cook but can’t bake. Maybe they can clean but lack organizational skills. We are all on a path to being more and more independent and we all have to “start where we are” to grow.