Luke* (not his real name) used to spend his life in isolation. He was painfully shy, avoiding contact with others; instead keeping himself in self-imposed exile in his bedroom. Like other teenagers, he would keep himself busy playing video games, however he far preferred the company of technology to interacting with people in the outside world. His relationship with his family had suffered because his difficulty with communication had made him frustrated and angry – leading to arguing and tension in his home. He was unhappy, as were his family, but no one could see a way out… Until they did.
Luke had little trust for people, but over several months of working with Interactionz, he had slowly developed a trusting respect for Andrew (an Interactionz mentor). Together, Andrew and Luke’s family decided that more was possible than what facilitated care had been able to give to Luke. His family had always done what they thought was best for him, and they had tried their best to support Luke and make him happy. But the truth was – it wasn’t working for Luke, nor was it working for his relationship with his family. A lifetime of exile and unhappiness was not what they wanted for him, so they decided that they wanted to reach beyond the ‘status quo’ of facilitated care, to somehow open up his world for him. He deserved a good life, so Andrew and Luke’s family hatched a plan to create one of individualised support.
Andrew started by working with Luke to understand why he avoided interacting with people. He found that Luke’s extreme shyness, avoidance of people, aggression and difficulty with communicating with others all led back to the frustration he felt from his perceived limitations of his disability, and subsequent lack of self-confidence. So, Andrew set to work with Luke on the areas in his life he felt limited by. They developed Andrew’s communication skills by practicing communication and social behaviour, in environments where he felt comfortable doing so until he was comfortable to try new places.
Slowly Luke’s confidence grew with his communication skills. Andrew gradually introduced him to social opportunities, starting with safe environments like encouraging Luke to talk to Andrew’s colleagues in his office, where Luke would be happy to practice these new-found skills. With Andrew standing beside him, Luke became more confident visiting different environments because he knew he could trust Andrew if something went wrong – as sometimes it did in the beginning. Over time, by doing things like buying a pie and chatting to the dairy owner, he learnt how different social situations could be enjoyed, and he began to develop trust and better relationships with others.
Luke started to both be, and feel, less isolated. He could see how his skills were improving, and felt better about himself and less frustrated by what he thought of as limitations of his disability. He could see that it wasn’t the disability holding him back – it had been opportunity and confidence.
His relationship with his family also benefited. By being able to better communicate his needs and wishes, he was less stressed and angry. A better understanding of socially acceptable behaviour meant that he was better at moderating his own behaviour. Luke had a more positive approach to communicating and related more constructively with those close to him.
With his growing confidence and communication skills, Interactionz mentored Luke to develop skills to safely use public transport and to navigate between key places on foot. Walking around the community, Luke started to confidently get himself from place to place independently. More walking led to increased physical fitness – also contributing to his well-being.
Luke’s growing life skills gave him the confidence to try new activities, as he saw what else what might be possible. Luke had not had ambition before – but his growing optimism and self-assurance led to a desire to be a contributing member of the community. Andrew connected Luke to relevant job seeking services, including Career Moves (an employment service which helps people with disabilities, or long-term injuries, find work). A two-year work program at the local supermarket then ensued, and was so successful that now the program has ended, Luke has been offered a job.
Having a very supportive family, Luke had always been welcome to live at home, but he decided that for his developing independence, it would be better to live in the community. Interactionz helped Luke to find a living arrangement that would work for him. Suddenly Luke was flatting out in the community, just like other guys his age.
Of course, working and living in the community has meant even more opportunities to develop his life skills further. Luke has improved his household skills of cooking and cleaning, as well as his interpersonal skills while building friendships with flat mates and other people he comes into contact with in the community. Time and self-management is needed at both work and home, and earning a wage and living independently has meant spending money and learning to manage his finances. Luke is now proud to be a participating member of both the economy, as well as the wider community.
When meeting Luke, the painful shyness and aversion to interacting with the world is long gone. He is more confident, self-reliant, independent and out-going. Luke now talks about new goals and dreams, like getting a girlfriend. But most importantly; he is happier. Embracing his independence has led to him developing a wonderful sense of self-efficacy. Luke no longer relies on facilitated care, and now the role that Andrew plays as his mentor is only a couple of hours per month, rather than several hours per week. He also enjoys a fantastic relationship with his family, and they, together with Luke, are excited to see what else is possible in a life where previously a ‘good life’ seemed impossible, but is now a reality.
*The name of the young man in this story has been changed to protect his privacy.