Mark – on the PATH to independence and happiness

In five years Mark’s* (not his real name) life journey has seen a significant turn-around. When he originally came to Interactionz he struggled with managing his temper and self-control when things angered or disappointed him. In fact, managing the dynamic of Mark reacting physically to such situations meant that he required constant one-to-one active supervision, as an approved restraint technique had been frequently used in his last environment to mitigate what could be dangerous behaviour. As you can imagine, this limited how his whole life was approached; including his choice of activities, contact with the wider community, resultant relationships with others, and opportunities for developing life skills. This contrasts starkly with the freedom of opportunity and enjoyment now open to Mark in a life where he is independently making his way around the community, forming relationships with people and volunteering to help others.

But how is such a turn-around possible? Where do you start in an environment where support structures and opportunities for an individual are perceivably limited by the potential of threatening, or even dangerous behaviour? For Interactionz it was about looking at the individual and his self-determined, rather than perceived, needs.

Focusing first on what situations led Mark to behaving in ways that were potentially a risk to himself and others provided a starting point and offered multiple flow-on effects. It was identified that his behaviour would become aggressive when he was in situations where he did not feel in control, or felt bored. Avoiding these situations initially (or until he had the skills to cope with them), meant that Mark’s frustrations lessened. Being calmer, he was then more open to staff working with him to develop better ways of reacting to situations which previously could cause aggression or unsafe behaviour.

This strategy meant that from when Mark was first introduced to Interactionz, the restraint technique which had been regularly used before, was only used once in the early days, and not since. And this was not because of a blanket decision not to use it, but because his behaviour did not warrant it, as he was not put in situations where a negative response was triggered.

Use of the restraint technique had been triggering Mark’s fight or flight response. Therefore, not using it lessened his overall levels of anxiety and aggression. Interactionz’s mentors were able to work with him on becoming more aware of his feelings, and gradually on his understanding of how to respond to those feelings. Greater awareness of how his behaviour affected others then followed, including teaching him what behaviour was appropriate in which situations. This awareness led to him improving his self-management and moderation of language and behaviour, and made it possible for mentors to be able to safely give him opportunities to practice these new skills, improve his communication, and develop relationship building skills. Mark’s social skills bloomed, and even more opportunities were possible for him.

Suddenly, the idea of Mark participating in fitness activities that would help to burn off some of his energy, and give him the opportunity to interact with others in the local community, became possible. Mark mentioned that he wanted to start working out at the gym, so his Interactionz mentors facilitated his relationship with the gym trainers and a membership was organised. The flow on effects of these types of opportunities are many. Mark increased his fitness, coordination, balance and flexibility and had an outlet to burn off negative energy and frustration. He formed connections in the community, thus practicing and improving his communication skills and confidence. Managing the payment of his membership even meant that his financial decision making skills were being put into practice, and provided a focus for Interactionz to work on budgeting skills.

The more activities Mark was provided with, the more chances he had to work on his skills, and discover what was possible for him – both with his innate skills and abilities, and with what he did in his life. Without these opportunities, Mark would not have been interested in discussing the concepts.

Being open already to new possibilities, Interactionz took Mark through the PATH (Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope) planning process. This exploration of Mark’s interests and goals identified that he wanted to find work opportunities. He was provided assistance to enrol with Career Moves (a supported employment agency) and Volunteering Waikato. He subsequently took on a volunteer role with Habitat for Humanity. This further increased his level of independence, opportunities to build positive relationships with others through fulfilling a role within the organisation, as well as the improved self-perception of ‘giving back’ to the community.

The success of this venture opened Mark up to new interests. He is now working towards volunteering at SPCA; motivated by the idea of being involved in projects that he believes in and in work environments that he thought that he would enjoy. He has the confidence to attend meetings with a supported employment consultant in his bid to seek paid work. And part of the process of being dedicated to job seeking brings an opportunity to work on a whole new set of skills; time management skills to attend meetings on time, written communication and literacy skills, interview skills, and perseverance in the face of disappointment. As Mark is so motivated to find work, he has committed to working on these elements, whereas previously there was no opportunity to even consider these issues, nor the motivation to tackle them.

Another result of all of these activities outside of his residential support is the opportunity for Mark to navigate independently and safely around the community. Interactionz worked with Mark to develop plans to make this happen, and ensure that he had the support and skills he needed. For example, to help Mark with cycling and skateboarding around the neighbourhood, Interactionz introduced active mentoring around safe cycle practices on the road and assistance with navigating new routes. He also enjoyed learning practical skills, such as bike repairs and maintenance. Once he was effectively making his way around the city, Mark’s greater independence meant that he felt happier due to the freedom of being able to manage this area of his life himself.

There is no question that Mark’s navigation skills, as well as many other areas in his life have improved – both in the eyes of his support people, and most importantly in Mark’s perception. There is also no question that navigating through the potentially difficult journey from dependent care to individualised support can be a tricky one.  Looking at the needs of the individual means taking the chance to take those first few steps, or in Mark’s case, stand back and look at where the individual wants to go in their life, rather than relying on restraint techniques to manage behaviour. Through a process of communication, behaviour support, and allowing Mark to have more autonomy in decision making about his life journey, he has grown into a generally much happier and more calm individual. Now with greater options for communication, developing connections and decision making opportunities, he has been able to pursue many of his interests. Mark is now able to seek freedoms and development goals that most people around his age are pursuing, and with the support of Interactionz these milestones, which were once considered unattainable – are suddenly possible.

An update on Mark’s story:
In his continuing journey towards independence, Mark has moved on from Interactionz’s support and is now living with optimum independence (and minimal support from another agency) in his own home.
*To protect his privacy, we have used the name Mark for the young man in this story.