Ep. 14: Introduction to Behaviour Analysis
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Introduction to Disabilities: Q&A (Episode 10)

During Disability Programs Specialized Services Training Week in March 2021, the episode An Introduction to Disabilities (Episode 2) was played in a live session moderated by Sophie-Anne Scherrer, OT and Dana Lawlor, S-LP. Toward the end of the session, the audience were able to ask questions to Sophie-Anne and Dana.

In this episode, Sophie-Anne and Dana revisit their answers to some of the questions ask during the live event, and answer a few that they couldn’t get to then.

Some of the questions addressed in this episode are:

  • What is a disability?
  • Is addiction a disability?
  • Can anxiety be a disability?
  • What can I do if I think someone’s child has a disability, but the parents don’t recognize it?
  • Is it possible to be diagnosed with a disability as an adult?

If you haven’t seen or listened to Episode 2, you should check it out first.

You can also listen to Cynthia Miller-Lautman’s conversation with her husband about his being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder as an adult.

You can also download our Disabilities Fact Sheet (PDF).

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For Android

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This podcast is produced with the support of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay and Jordan’s Principle.

 “NISHIIYUU AND ME” by artists from Whapmagoostui and the N’We Jinan project. Permission to use the music was generously provided by David Hodges/N’We Jinan. You can listen to the track on SoudCloud here or buy/stream it on Apple Music .

“Forever” by DJ Arrow. Permission to use the music was generously provided by Jason Swallow. You can listen to the track on SoundCloud here.

Disclaimer

The information provided on this website is for information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, assessment and evaluation. We encourage our readers to seek and consult qualified health care professionals for answers to personal medical questions. Read the full disclaimer.

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TRANSCRIPT: Introduction to Disabilities: Q&A (Episode 10)

DPSS Podcast

Episode 10: Disabilities Q&A

Transcript

 

Dana Lawlor

Welcome. Waachiyaa.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Hello.

Dana Lawlor

My name is Dana Lawlor and I am a Speech-Language Pathologist by training and a clinical adviser on the Disability Programs Specialized Services team.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Waachiyaa. My name is Sophie-Anne Scherrer and, and I am an occupational therapist by training and a clinical advisor on the disability program, specialized services team.

Dana Lawlor

Hello, Sophie-Anne, and it’s good to be back with you again.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

It’s good to be with you Dana.

Dana Lawlor

So let’s just orient everybody here, all of our listeners. Thank you for listening in. Sophie-Anne and I are back with you after our training week in March, where we talked about general disabilities, disabilities in general and what disabilities mean. We had some online info sessions for you during that week and we talked about disabilities in a very broad way.

And in the last 30 minutes of our session together, we received some wonderful questions from you, and we did our best at the time to answer those questions. But you can imagine that getting live questions like that, it’s hard to kind of answer in a way that you feel really good about. So here we are again today to circle back on some really important questions that you brought to us and we wanted to take the time to dig in a bit more.

So this is why we’re here and recording this conversation today. We’re hoping that by listening in or watching, you’ll be able to have some more information related to disabilities. And if you’re not sure how to explain disabilities to someone else, please send them to our Web page. That is disability programs, specialized services dot org. To listen in to the episode called Introduction to Disabilities and to this conversation.

So if you haven’t listened to the first one, please go back and listen in. You can find the link in the show notes. And here we are again to dig in. Sophie-Anne and I. So Sophie-Anne, let’s talk. You ready?

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Yes.

Dana Lawlor

All right. I’m going to throw you the first question. One of the questions that we dug into, and I think it’s worth explaining again and digging into, is what is a disability?

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Yeah, it is a complex concept. There is multiple definitions, as we mentioned in our podcast. And I think it’s good to circle back and re-explain. And even for us, the more we dig in, the more we get a full explanation on it that we can give. So the explanation that we’re using in the team is inspired by the social model of disabilities.

So as I mentioned, there are different views, but I feel like this view helps us see a little bit more how we can help people by adapting the environments and how it’s not just the person who has a disability, it’s how everything gets together. To create the disability. So in order to understand disabilities, from that point of view, we need to look at two other words, two concepts, the concept of environments and the person.

And so you’ll see an image here. We have an image just to illustrate a disability. So you see you have the word environment there. The environment is everything that surrounds us. So it’s the land, it’s the animals, it’s the built environment. It’s under buildings around us. How the streets are made. And it’s also the people around us.

We interact with our family, our neighbours, our coworkers. So how are they interacting with us? Are they judging us for challenges that we have or are they helping us with our challenges? Are they seeing and recognizing ourselves for our strengths also that helps someone flourish. So and are they helping enough? Too much. We can help someone too much and stop them from developing their skills if we help too much.

Or are they helping us? Not enough. So this is part of the environment. The rules, the laws and the services that we have access to also are part of our environment. And then you have the person. So everyone, no matter who we are, we all have challenges and we have skills and strengths and we are all different.

We all have different things to bring to the table. So let’s see. So when there is a mismatch between the environment and the person, that’s when we have a disability. So we might have challenges if the environment is creating even more barriers with those challenges, then it will make it more difficult for us to go through our day, through our life, when the environment helps us with our challenges.

Maybe we won’t have a disability, but we’ll still have challenges as everyone has. And some people have more bigger challenges than others. So let’s take an example. As a person, we can have challenges in our body, our mind, our spirit. I can give an example from myself. I have a challenge distinguishing my right from my left. I have worked on it, I’ve practiced as a kid.

As an adult, I’ve always tried and it takes me time. I need to stop and think to figure it out. It’s not natural. It’s not instinctive. I need time. I do it, but I need a bit more time than other people. It’s not that much of a challenge in my life except for when I drive and I don’t know where I’m going.

And I have someone in the passenger seat giving me directions. So if that person tells me last minute turn right, chances are I won’t turn right. There’s 50% chance.

Dana Lawlor

That I’ll turn left.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

So if that person is aware of that and they want to help me out, then they can. They can take time to tell me ahead of time. They can tell me a bit more, in advance so I can think, figure it out and then turn. Or they can point to the direction they want me to start. And then I can do it in a much better way.

In a much easier way. If the person in the passenger seat thinks, oh, my gosh, she can’t distinguish her right from her left. Come on. Like that can’t be possible. I’ll still like I’ll tell her last minute. She’ll figure it out. It’s not true. I’m sure she can do it. I’ll feel a lot of pressure because I will feel the judgment from that person.

I’ll get nervous and I’ll be worse at figuring it out so we have more chances of getting lost. So that’s the environment around me. That can help me you know if the person tells me ahead of time or points, I won’t have a disability minor, very small disability, but I won’t have that disability. I still have the same challenge inside of me figuring it out.

If the person is judging me and is impatient and tells me last minute, well, I will have trouble going through that task well, so that could be a minor disability. It can be a person or it can be a G.P.S. I can use a G.P.S. for that. And the G.P.S. might be programed to tell me ahead of time or not, and it will be more or less difficult. When we look at this image.

We have a guy in a wheelchair, so he seems to have difficulties with his legs, moving his legs. But I’m pretty sure he has great skills at driving his wheelchair. He’s probably practiced a lot and he’s got strong arms, as we can see. I’m sure he can move his wheelchair around and has an easier, easy time moving and manipulating that and that needs practice.

If this guy goes around his community and wants to visit his friends and gets in front of a set of stairs, so his friend’s house has stairs in front, he’s stuck he cannot go and visit his friends. So then there is a disability. So he has these challenges in his body with his legs. If there are stairs in front of him, he cannot do what’s important for him, he has a disability.

Can you imagine if it’s his house who has those stairs, then it’s even more disabling? He might not be able to get out of his house. That’s very, very disabling. If his house or his friend’s house is at ground level and a door, there is no doorstep. He can go in and out no problem. He will still have the same challenge with his legs.

He’ll be able to do that task, he won’t have a disability going around his community. So we can see how the environment can really help us or stop us from doing what’s important to us. And sometimes, yes, we can build our skills. We can work on matching our environment better. But sometimes it’s not possible, and sometimes it takes a lot of effort to match an environment and we’ll still have trouble.

So having our environments being adapted to us.

Dana Lawlor

Then match us.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Makes it so much easier for a lot of people and I know we’re all different, as I mentioned. So there is a mold in this environment that, you know, we’ll all have trouble fitting. And when we think about our environment and we’re trying to help it match people in our community, we can help a lot of different people at the same time.

And by doing that, people don’t feel singled out because you’re adapting the environment to a lot of different people you’re not necessarily thinking one person trying to make them fit. So, no, there’s both that we need to do. That guy in the wheelchair, he learned to use his wheelchair and he needed to learn that skill. But he won’t be able if he’s paralyzed, chances are he won’t be able to learn to use his legs.

That’s something he can’t do. He needs the environment to match him.

Dana Lawlor

Right. I really appreciate that idea of the mismatch. We’re talking about the mismatch between the person and the environment. And the social model doesn’t put the fault on the person. Right. It’s there’s no fault in it. And so it feels much more inclusive and much more understanding than I think some other models where it’s about what does the person need and how can the environment be matched to that person?

And to me, that just it sits better with me, I think, than some of the other models that I’ve learned about that.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

And again, there’s no there is multiple definitions because also sometimes it’s just not possible to match the environment. So there is there’s both that we need to do. So we can use different concepts, but it should be fluid and we and the environment can be moved towards the person. The other thing is that adapting the environment won’t help, as I mentioned, just one person and it will not just help people that you see in your community that have visible disabilities that say or that have diagnoses.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Let’s take a very concrete example. If you adapt a house and people in wheelchairs can go in and out and can go around that house and and take a bath and cook for themselves and things are adapted for them. That house will also be adapted to most people tall, small people, smaller people. You will have elders who might start having difficulty, more difficulty walking around.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

It will help them if they have grab bars in their shower. For example, if you have parents using strollers, it’s going to be more difficult getting through stairs than if it’s at the ground level. Or if you have an access ramp, it’s going to be easier for strollers. As well.

Dana Lawlor

And it could be temporary top, Sophie-Anne like somebody after a surgery or. Somebody who needs assistance with their walking. So they’re using a walker or a cane temporarily while they’re rehabilitating after a surgery or something.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Totally, someone who’s sprained an ankle, that happens frequently. A woman who is pregnant might need a bit more stability, might need to hold on to things a bit more. So there is a lot of different reasons why an adapted house will be helpful to a lot of people. This can also be helpful to people moving furniture.

Dana Lawlor

Right.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

You have wider doors and those stairs. So it just helps everyone.

Dana Lawlor

So you make some very good points. Thanks for coming back on that. I know it is a complex concept, but I think it’s really worth the time for us to dissect it like we did. So thank you. That’s great. I want to say the next question I feel, you know, is not our area of training. It’s not our field of expertise.

But I you know, we’ve both agreed that it was a really good question and a question that warranted us, you know, talking a little bit more about and it’s the question of is drug or alcohol addiction a disability? What would you have to say about that?

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Thanks for saying that’s not within our field because it’s important to mention it. We’re using if someone brought that very interesting question to us and we want to make sure we answer it. The goal we are not specialists of addictions. The goal is not to fully analyze how addictions are created and how to treat them. It’s not our goal.

It’s just to look at addictions from a disability perspective. And it’s very complex. So we’re not we’re not trying to to fully analyze this. So a person with addictions has challenges with that specific situation. They also have skills that help them go through their days, theirs an environment around them. Now they have relationships that might be very supportive and help them avoid consuming.

Or there might be relationships that drives them towards consuming. If their friends are all going to the bar and asking them to go and influencing that person to go might be more difficult not to use drugs or alcohol if there is support available in the community for people with addiction. What support is available? Does that person feel comfortable with that support?

But is there a living situation? Is there is it a healthy living situation or is it a very challenging and distressing living situation and also the activities that they have access to? Are they meaningful to them? Are they to they make it worth putting their energy in in activities? Is the person is is a hunter and really a values hunting?

Are they able to go hunt, for example? Is it that’s meaningful for them? Can they do it or are they are they stopped from doing it? And then these are all things that can support the person or that can make life more difficult. And create more challenges with addictions. And with that in mind, with the person, with their addictions, do their addictions stop them from doing what’s important to them in their lives again?

Does it stop them from going hunting? Does it stop them from working, from taking care of their family? Or are they able to do everything that’s important to them? There are people with addiction who haven’t used drugs or alcohol for 30 years and who are mentioning that they still know that the addiction is there. If they start using, they will get back into it.

So they feel like they have that challenges inside themselves and they are working to avoid it. So let’s say they’re not using they still have that addiction, but they’re not using and they have a meaningful life and they do what’s important to them still. Then they wouldn’t, they would not have a disability. But if their consumption is stopping them from going to work, taking care of family or anything else that’s important for them, then yes, I would say that this is a disability.

Does it make sense?

Dana Lawlor

Yeah, it makes sense. I just. So let me see if I’ve got this right. Sophie-Anne. I wanted to just think if an addiction is impeding someone from living their full life, from doing the things that they want to do and the environment, is not there to help them. The combination of those things then we could say is a disability.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Yep, that’s exactly it.

Dana Lawlor

So along the same lines, one of the other questions that came up for us was, is anxiety a disability? So I kind of know, I think I kind of know if we’re going to follow that same kind of path. I kind of know what you’re going to say, but I still want you to, if you can answer that one.

Is anxiety a disability?

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

So again, same disclaimer we are not specialized like mental health, and the goal of this explanation is not to fully analyze anxiety. And yes, it’s the same thing you have someone with a challenge, who’s challenge is anxiety, but you have someone who has a lot of other skills and strengths and you have someone who is living in an environment, who is surrounded by people, by different services.

So if the person is able to go through their life and do what’s important to them despite anxiety or with the anxiety, then they will not have a disability. The anxiety might still be present, but if they learn a skill to manage it, and if the environment, people around them help them manage it, there is a tolerance and there’s support and they feel good about going through their day still then they might not have a disability if the anxiety is taking over their life, if it’s stopping them from going out of their house, if it stops them from doing activities that are important, then we can say that this is a disability.

Dana Lawlor

Okay. Thank you. That sets the stage that gives us that kind of framework again, which I think helps to understand what we’re talking about when we say disability.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Yeah, I think it helps to take different examples and go round it. Yeah. Dana, we had another question that I think is, is more for you. When a therapist, a family member or a friend sees that a child has challenges. Let’s take an example of delayed speech. So a child that would not speak as much as other children the same age and the parents are saying, no, no, everything is fine.

Everything is going. Everything is all right. So if you see that, definitely you think there is a problem when you observe, what do you do with this?

Dana Lawlor

That is a I really value that question because I’ve had to face that situation many times. And I think a lot of therapists do. And I think my answer is, you know, earlier on in my career and my answer now might be a little bit different, but it’s still a journey for me. It’s still requires me to be very attentive and conscious of what’s going on as much as possible.

So it’s not always easy. It’s not easy to talk to parents about concerns that we have or things that we might be a little bit worried about. It’s not easy to bring up those topics. It’s not easy to have those conversations. But I think they’re important conversations to have. And I think it’s about finding the right time, and I think it’s about developing trust.

So what I’ve found helpful so far in my own experiences is that, you know, to sit and take the time to really to talk with parents, with caregivers, and to really listen, and it’s hard. It’s really hard to do that. But I will ask, you know, parents, what are your priorities for your loved ones, for your loved one, and what is the priority for your child?

Dana Lawlor

So and what is making things hard in your life? Because I’m not living in the house with them, but I really want to get a chance to know what that reality is for a parent and what’s hard for you right now in taking care of your child. And if you could change one thing right now, what would it be?

And I think that’s really important. And if parents feel like they trust you enough to share that information, it’s up to us to really listen and to pay attention and to try to see where we can take their priorities and where we can take on things that we might want to address and help the child and see how those things can kind of come together.

Dana Lawlor

And I think when we do that, that’s when the trust starts to build and then we can start building towards working on other things as well if needed, you know, as time goes on. But I think it’s coming from a place of compassion and understanding that this is a big it’s potentially a big journey. It might be a big journey for parents, right.

Journey of a journey of anger or denial or feelings of guilt or grief. And so I think it’s a privilege for us to be able to to sit with those big emotions and to journey beside the parent and the caregiver in that. And it takes time. It takes a lot of time.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Yeah. And if it might not be the first person telling a parent that their child has a challenge, it might be the third or fifth time they hear the same challenge from different people that they might be ready to to hear it.

Dana Lawlor

Yeah, absolutely. And that yeah, that’s a really good point. And I think just trying to be gentle with it, gentle with our words, gentle with our conversations. Yeah, but they’re important conversations to have.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Yeah, yeah, definitely. And actually, there’s another question that is not along the same line, but we’re talking about identifying a challenge and then the next step would be diagnosis. And there are some people who are not diagnosed as children. Is it possible for people who are now adults to be diagnosed with disabilities like autism or like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?

Dana Lawlor

Yeah. I, when this question first came up, I had a conversation. First of all, let me back up just for a second. So yes, it is possible. The short answer is yes, it’s possible to get a diagnosis as an adult and it’s a personal journey and coming to it as an adult, depending on where you’re coming from and maybe you can have some initiative and you can have a little bit more say in whether or not you do pursue an assessment or try to find answers to what you might be experiencing.

You might you might be able to participate more than if you were younger. So it’s a really it’s a personal journey. And I think the more information that we have, you know, we have a lot more information now about disabilities than we did 20 years ago. So the more information that we have and the more we hear people share their experiences, the more we might be able to relate and to think, oh, my goodness, okay, well, maybe do I want this?

That’s something I want to look into. Is this impeding me from doing the things that I really want to do? And if that’s the case, then maybe, maybe it would make sense to do to get some support from a professional and to get an assessment to see how things can be made easier.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Right.

Dana Lawlor

So after this question came in, I had a conversation with my husband and he gave me permission to share a little bit about his story. So my husband and I decided that we wanted to support my son in having an assessment done. So my son’s in elementary school and we were noticing that he was having difficulties attending in class and difficulties initiating and following through on tasks and on projects and activities and stuff.

And so we felt we wanted to look in and get a psychologist to help us just to make sure we were doing everything we could do to help him. And along that process of helping my son and going through that, both my husband and I saw things and learned more about ADHD that we saw in ourselves, you know, and it was it’s interesting to kind of have that experience as an adult going, Oh yeah, that, that’s me and that, oh, that’s me.

So for me, I could, I could relate, but it didn’t. The challenges that I see or have in my own life are not stopping me from doing what I want to do? So I didn’t decide to go and pursue an assessment right now. I didn’t think it was going to be really informative and it’s not what I wanted to do.

So that was my choice and I felt like I could do the tasks that I wanted to do. My husband, on the other hand, felt that there was more information that he needed. He was having a hard time, a harder time at work. He was having a harder time on the weekends. And he wanted to know, is there something else that I need to know?

Is there other things? And it turns out he was diagnosed with ADHD and so for him, now he’s pursuing looking at, you know, he’s pursuing different medications, trying to find the right dose, trying to minimize the side effects, trying to find a good balance for him, trying to put strategies and things in place that can make things easier for him.

So yeah, I mean, it’s definitely, you know, he was at the age of 43, he came to that diagnosis. So it is absolutely possible. And, you know, Sophie-Anne, one of our colleagues, Cynthia Miller-Lautman who’s an occupational therapist, she has her own podcast it’s called Swinging Upside Down. And one of the episodes that she has, she speaks with her husband, Michael.,

Michael Lautman who was diagnosed with ADHD also as an adult. And Michael has been so wonderful in sharing that experience in the podcast. So we’re going to invite you to listen in to that, because Michael is incredibly insightful and he’s done a lot of work at looking at his ADHD and how it affects him and where does it fit into his life and what does it bring him?

It brings him also some gifts too, right. And he’s so very insightful on that. So if you haven’t listened in yet, please listen in and we’ll put those in the show notes as well. But it is a personal journey and we are having a lot more information. And the more people share about their journeys and the more we can better understand each other, I think.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Yeah. And the example you gave I find really interesting also thanks for sharing your personal story in there and you have two different ways of going about it. You found that you didn’t necessarily need a diagnosis because you have already put in place a structure that works for you and your husband needed to know a bit more about it.

And that’s what’s important to know is that it’s different from for everyone. It’s good to pursue a diagnosis when you feel there is more that could be done to help you out in your life, in this. And it’s easy and risky to self diagnose. When I started studying occupational therapy, I was hearing about different diagnoses.

And then I would realize that I had traits, a lot of different things. And again, I had to to stop and look at. Okay, does it stop me in my life right now? No, maybe it’s okay. Maybe I don’t need to go further. And if I feel eventually that it stops me somewhere and they need more help, then I go seek.

We are all on a continuum. There’s no. It’s not a red and green light, a slope let’s say between when one point to the other. So we can have different challenges that may look like one diagnosis, that may look like autism, that may look like an attention deficit or any other diagnosis. And we are all somewhere in there.

Again, it doesn’t stop us in our life. Maybe. Maybe that’s fine, too.

Dana Lawlor

Yeah, yeah. No, that’s great. I think if you do. If you do, you know, if you’re listening in and you do have concerns and you do feel like things, there’s elements and pieces that you feel that you’re missing and you’re not able to do the things that you really want to do. Then talk to your doctor at the clinic.

Dana Lawlor

It can be a long process to get a diagnosis, but in the meantime there are supports and strategies that can be put in place without having a diagnosis. So it is a personal journey.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it is.

Dana Lawlor

Sophie-Anne, I think that was the end of our questions.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Yes. Yes.

Dana Lawlor

I think so too.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

It was nice to explore them again with you.

Dana Lawlor

Yeah. Thank you, Sophie-Anne, it was so good to come back together again. So just to bring you back, thank you to the listeners so much for spending your valuable time with us. So we do have quite a few podcasts now on our web page. We’re very proud of them and we feel so grateful when you take your time to listen in.

So if you go to https://disabilityprogramsspecializedservices.org, you can find under the podcast tab, you can find our different episodes there, including our episode on general disabilities together. So thank you to the DPSS team and for everyone listening and to everyone, everyone who asked questions. We really appreciate it so much. Until we talk again.

Sophie-Anne Scherrer

Thank you Dana.

Dana Lawlor

Bye Sophie-Anne.

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