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Not What It Seems
When you work with unusual people, appearances can be deceptive…
Once or twice recently I have found myself doing a bit of a double take when out and about, when someone does something out of the ordinary. As an example, it’s the guy bellowing to himself loudly in Sainsbury’s, causing a stir among fellow shoppers who are politely giving him a wide berth. Then you realise he has one of those new-fangled earpieces in and is actually discussing the price of carrots with his wife on the phone. A couple of weeks ago I nearly attempted emergency resuscitation on a woman who slumped suddenly forward on the train, only to discover she had dropped a contact lens onto her newspaper.
Since we often risk being frightfully embarrassed, we often side step an awkward or unusual situation in case we get it wrong. However, there are times when the behaviour of others does give us cause for alarm and we feel we really should intervene. The key is knowing when and how to react.
As the appearance or mannerisms of some people with learning disability can set them apart from others, you may find yourselves the object of attention when out and about. Well-intentioned strangers might show alarm or concern at the noises or gestures a service user is making, or take exception at the way staff are using ‘one voice’ or single word instructions to support a person in crisis. You could be the object of someone’s extreme disgust, or find yourself being told off, or worse, reported to the police.
This has happened on more than one occasion to people I know, where the police have arrived ready for a clear case of abuse of a vulnerable person, causing the care worker to have to give an explanation of exactly what IS going on. Of course, your experience and understanding of, say, managing a challenging situation means you use actions and language that others don’t relate to in the same way. Explaining why the young man is face down on the pavement while you are standing close by appearing to ignore him is not always easy. Neither is convincing a well-meaning lady that the safest and most appropriate way of supporting your client right now is by placing one hand on their back and one on their arm and marching them swiftly away……
But sometimes the public can spot a genuine concern, so we should always be gracious if we are called upon to explain ourselves, no matter how embarrassing or uncomfortable it is.
Is this really okay?
A friend was describing a recent situation in a pub, where he was eating alone and observed a group of two carers and a service user having lunch nearby. Very aware of the need to not read too much into what appeared to be going on, he noticed that the care workers were tucking in to hearty platefuls while the service user looked on, empty handed. As the meal progressed, he noted the carers ordered desserts, and heard one of them tell the service user that no, he couldn’t have any, because he was on a diet.
My friend was pretty uncomfortable and unhappy with what he thought he was watching, but refrained from comment, as he was aware that appearances could be deceptive. It was only when the time came to pay the bill that he realised what he was seeing ought to be giving him concerns. The service user was asked for his wallet, where the staff members proceeded to pay for the food and drink from the contents. They then (and this was the real catch) asked for the receipt to be split into two. One receipt was placed into the wallet and the other discarded.
Of course this was reported and although we never did find out what happened, the feeling was that my pal had blown the whistle on very poor practice at best. But if he hadn’t spoken up, if he hadn’t felt brave enough to tackle it, then minding his own business could have resulted in continued abuse.
If the story has a moral, then it’s about never judging too fast, but always questioning what you see. If there is nothing untoward, then you will not be unpopular for asking. You might be seen as nosey, but you could also be safeguarding a person who is vulnerable.
Ginny Tyler – QCS Expert Learning Disabilities Contributor