J’s Journey to Independence

Oct 25
Linda Lane, Area Director
Dungarvin Indiana

“J” journey to independence with Dungarvin started when he ‘aged out’ of a Department of Education setting with a statewide reputation and a history of physical aggression. Though he rarely aggressed against other people, he had learned to use his severe ‘tantrums’ to avoid activities, people or non-preferred consequences. In his first supported living setting he didn’t have much of a relationship with either of his housemates. Over time and despite a certain amount of ‘environmental hardening’ of the house, he inflicted thousands of dollars of property damage. At his day service program, he routinely destroyed computers, broke windows and doors, and spent a great deal of time in the ‘quiet room’. He often refused to attend day services, indicating his refusal by kicking dents in staffs’ cars, breaking the mirrors off and throwing GPS devices across the parking lot! Many of these episodes required police intervention.

About four years ago, his case manager suggested a move to a different location. At first consideration, this match seemed unlikely and was met with a certain amount of skepticism: the new housemates were older, more verbal, more independent, less behaviorally challenging, and had been together for many, many years. But the first few visits went well, so we proceeded with the move. Initially, J demonstrated some of the same behaviors, continuing to damage property and spending a great deal of time in the quiet room at his day service program.

J was fortunate to have a remarkable support team that simply would not give up. His day service provider, case manager and behaviorists worked with Dungarvin residential staff to try different staff approaches, different reward systems, different day program schedules, and different ‘social stories’ to prepare him for change and help him interpret experiences in his daily life. Often there was genuine disagreement within his team about what the best approach might be. In some respects, teams are set up with automatic differences of opinion and points of view—this is often the case with day service programs and residential programs. But J’s team, despite occasional disagreement within, always acted in concert once the plan or approach was finalized.

Gradually, with an exceptional level of cooperation among his support team members, we began to see change. J began to reduce both the frequency and severity of his behavioral episodes. Today, J occasionally refuses to attend day services, but he does so by telling staff he doesn’t want to go rather than by destroying their car. He occasionally damages property at work or at home, but this is becoming increasingly rare. He is able to access the community on a regular basis, does his chores at home, and jokes around with his housemates just like ‘one of the guys’.

J’s success story highlights two facets of Dungarvin’s excellence: first, we are willing to serve very challenging individuals, and second we work diligently with teams trying different approaches and (almost) never give up. Dungarvin is justly proud of the services we provide, but we also know we need to work as part of a team with other professionals. We know there will be differences of opinion and approach, but we also know that to succeed, we must work together and in concert. It has taken us four years with J, but he is doing well in the community, at work and at home with his housemates. With the support of his internal and external teams, he will continue toward more independence as well as being more able to cope with changes in his environment.

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