A New Way of Thinking

Produced in 1987 (Run time 22:12)

Cindy Diger: Tall. Sit real tall. That's a good boy.

Amy Powell: There's a new way of thinking about people with developmental disabilities in Minnesota, and it's having a dramatic impact on the programs and services available to them. In the past, aiding people with handicaps meant providing for their special needs, but this narrow focus on special needs often fostered dependence, segregation and isolation. More importantly, it overlooked other basic needs that people with disabilities share with all of us - a need for dignity and respect, family, friendship, a real home, a chance to learn and grow, and opportunity to contribute to society. Finding ways to fulfill these basic human needs while still providing for the special needs is what the new way of thinking is all about. And in recent years, this approach has had a positive impact on the lives of many individuals with severe disabilities and their families and friends.

Cindy Diger: Oh, boy. Push.

Amy Powell: Tommy was born three-and-a-half years ago with hydrocephalus, a condition that resulted in a severe developmental disability. In the past, such children were referred to placements outside their homes.

Cindy Diger: Oh, Pete likes the swing. Tom, do you want to swing?

Amy Powell: But Tommy has remained at home, where his parents Cindy and Ron with some special support provide him with a more normal life, a life filled with typical family experiences that Tommy would have been deprived of otherwise.

Cindy Diger: Where's Mom? Tom, where's Mom?

Ron Diger: Come on, buddy. All set? Here we go.

Amy Powell: Despite the extra effort it often entails, Tommy's parents also make certain that he gets to see a lot of the outside world where he enjoys a wide range of stimulating experiences.

Cindy Diger: We take him anywhere. We try to vary his environment as much as we possibly can.

Ron Diger: What do you see? Kind of like those bikes, huh?

Cindy Diger: Ron just takes it all in stride and he doesn't hesitate to take Tommy to the carwash or take him to the hardware store or just do anything on a Saturday that other dads do. He just does it. And many of my friends have commented that they're real surprised that he does it because it is so much extra work and it's so much more than is really necessary for a quick scoot to the store, but he does it because he knows Tom enjoys it.

What has Trish got? Isn't that pretty?>

Amy Powell: Tommy's parents are aided once a week by a physical therapist who understands and utilizes the advantages of in-home therapy.

Patricia Montgomery: You know what? Let's get you a workout a little bit here. Come on, let's get you revved up a little.

I see him for an hour a week in his home, and that's really the key. I think the most critical element is the home therapy and the fact that his mother or father and sometimes both are present, and they're the ones that really do his therapy. They're his therapists. And I come in and I actually treat him for that hour, but it's more that we work together to develop an ongoing program that they carry out through their day with him.

Cindy Diger: Pete says I can do it. Can Pete do it? Watch Pete. Watch Pete do it.

Amy Powell: Even Tommy's little brother Pete is involved in the therapy program.

Cindy Diger: Oh, what did Pete do? Oh, oh. What'd Pete do? [Laughs]

Patricia Montgomery: I try to incorporate siblings into the therapy program, not only while I work in the home with the child, but also on the ongoing program. Games that they can play as siblings together that are therapeutic. Ways that the sibling can help with the other child. So I try to incorporate them, make it more of a family therapy program rather than just so that the one child is picked out to get extra attention.

Cindy Diger: Here comes Terry.

Terry Maag: Hi, come on in.

Amy Powell: Tommy's parents are also supported by a daycare provider, which makes it possible for Cindy to occasionally have a break from the intensity of Tommy's therapy and to hold a part-time job.

Cindy Diger: Bye.

Terry Maag: Say bye, Mommy.

Cindy Diger: Bye, Sweetie.

Terry Maag: Say bye-bye.

Cindy Diger: See you later. Bye.

Amy Powell: Finding someone who would provide daycare for Tommy was difficult. It took almost two months, and then there was the question of how the other kids would respond.

Terry Maag: The kids, well, at first it was a real normal, I think, curiosity, you know. Why can't he walk? Why can't he do this? Stuff like that. And they asked questions. I answered the questions as best I could, and what I couldn't answer, Cindy did real well answering for them. And once the initial novelty of, you know, him being here wore off, he's just one of the kids. They think of him as Tom.

Amy Powell: It has meant a great deal to Tommy to be able to play with regular kids, and having Tommy around has taught the kids that, inside, he's really no different than anyone else. A lesson that Cindy and Ron teach other people every day, just by their own example.

Cindy Diger: We're real proud of him. He's our son just as much as Peter is. And I think a lot of people see that in us. Because we'll take him to church in his wheelchair and put him in the nursery, just like we would any other child. And it takes our positive attitude as far as Tom's handicap not handicapping us to help other people ease their feelings on how to deal with a handicapped child.

We want our children to be happy. We want them to be successful in their own way. For Tommy, if that means being able to have the independence to walk, to make more decisions, then, as a parent, that's what I want for Tommy.

Okay, do you want to do it again?

Ron Diger: Was that fun? Did you like that?

Cindy Diger: Oh, do you want to do it again?

Amy Powell: In order for Tommy and others like him to have an opportunity to achieve these goals, there will need to be a fundamental shift in government funding policies for individuals with disabilities. At present, 99 cents out of every public dollar spent in Minnesota is devoted to out-of-home placements, a bias that must be changed if we are to provide the support needed by families like Tommy's.

Jenny Cole: It's all right, don't worry.

Amy Powell: Nina is a 13-year-old who is severely disabled. She attends the Capitol View school in Roseville where she participates in a special program that places a strong emphasis on building friendships between students like Nina and the regular students.

Beckie Gienger: We're trying to develop a friendship between Nina and a regular ed student, and her regular ed student's name is Jenny, and what we're looking for is for them to develop a friendship so that Jenny isn't teaching Nina how to do everything but that Nina is actually cooperating with Jenny and they're working together, not as teacher and student but as just friends.

Jenny Cole: Is that good?

Amy Powell: For Jenny, learning to communicate with her new friend, who has no verbal skills, presented a difficult but not insurmountable challenge.

Jenny Cole: I know you like that, don't you?

I'm able to communicate with Nina by eye contact because a lot of time when she smiles, it means, like, she's happy or that she's excited about something. If she puts her head on the table, she's tired and, you know. And if she just keeps her hands together, then she's frustrated about something.

Amy Powell: Another important goal at Capitol View is to integrate the children with disabilities into regular school activities as much as possible. Sharing the hallways and attending some classes together allows Nina a chance to watch and learn from the other students.

Beckie Gienger: Okay, Nina. It's time to work. We're going to work. We're going to water the plants, all right? Stand up and let's go find the watering can.

Amy Powell: The Capitol View School also features a functional curriculum for students like Nina. The curriculum teaches real life skills that gives the students a greater sense of independence and responsibility.

Beckie Gienger: Each student has a job, and Nina's job is watering plants. And we're trying to get her to key in on that you have to do something in your life. You have to do work, and this is Nina's work. So we show her the picture of the watering can and the plants, and that's her cue to go over and get her watering can and then to water the plants.

You're going to hang onto this or you're going to drop water all over. Nice.

Amy Powell: Likewise, Nina's recreational options have been expanded. By teaching her how to use a switch to turn a radio on and off. These switches are also used at home to operate a variety of appliances.

Beckie Gienger: There. Great. Do it again, so we can hear more music. Nice. Cool, guys.

We've got our strudel so we can go to the cashier now and pay for it.

Amy Powell: She's also learning how to shop in a neighborhood grocery store and order a meal at McDonald's by pointing to labels and pictures.

Beckie Gienger: Now you have to keep your hand out and wait for your change.

Nina will probably never be independent at going to McDonald's or going to the grocery store, but she can be interdependent. Nina can go to McDonald's, and she can order for herself maybe. Maybe she can get her packages and sit down. She can be an actual part of going to McDonald's, not just having her sit at a table, plop down at a table, and somebody else go do the ordering and then coming back and handing Nina her food. She can be an actual part of going to McDonald's

Amy Powell: Friendship. A chance to learn and grow with regular children your own age. Acquiring skills for functioning in the real world. All are important facets of the new way of thinking that are benefiting Nina and her fellow students at the Capitol View School.

name: When Frank turned 18 and finished high school, his mother worried a great deal about what would become of him.

Irma Thielen: To me, it looked pretty hopeless. I could see him sitting around the house and doing nothing, wondering why he spent all them years in school but what was he going to do now?

Frank Thielen: Good morning.

man 1: Good morning, Frankie, how are you?

man 2: Good morning, Frank.

Frank Thielen: Hello.

Amy Powell: However, thanks to a new school to work transition program, his future is looking much brighter today.

Irma Thielen: I never thought it would happen. I just couldn't see somebody hiring him. I thought his potential was so limited. But since he's been working, he has a lot of potential.

Amy Powell: Frank now works part time as a custodian at Donaldson's, a major Minnesota department store, and travels to and from the job on his own.

woman 1: Thank you all for being here today. As you know, we're discussing Frank and the transition from school to the world of work.

Amy Powell: Frank's successful transition was made possible by a transition planning team that included representatives from the school system and various social service agencies, and Frank and his mother.

Deidre Utley: Would you like to do the kind of thing you did at school? Patty was telling me that you cleaned bathrooms…

Frank Thielen: Yeah, cleaned bathrooms.

Deidre Utley: …and sweeped. What do you think of that?

Frank Thielen: Vacked the rug

Amy Powell: Pooling their resources, the team members began working with Frank in his early high school years to help him identify and prepare for a vocational role that he could feel comfortable in and perform well.

Frank Thielen: Way up in the corners.

Amy Powell: When the time came to actually go to work, the most important member of Frank's transition team was his job coach. She provided Frank with on-the-job training and guaranteed his employer a job well done during that period, even if that meant performing Frank's duties herself.

Deidre Utley: Frank was basically able to do all of the jobs. What he needed was something to remind him of the sequence of tasks and each step in the task. So what we did was make a photograph visual cue of each task he needed to do and the steps involved in each of the tasks. Here you are with the vacuum cleaner. What's the first thing you do?

Frank Thielen: The cord.

Deidre Utley: Unwrap the cord.

Frank Thielen: Unwrap the cord.

Deidre Utley: Okay.

Frank Thielen: And the cord plug…

Deidre Utley: Plug it in.

Frank Thielen: Yes.

Amy Powell: With the aid of the book, Frank can do his work without the job coach's assistance and is now even learning to use the book less often. Frank's employer is extremely pleased with Frank's work and would encourage others to hire people with disabilities.

Betty Petroske: I would tell other personnel managers to give these people a chance, and to hire them and work closely with them, get them started off on the right foot, and then they'll have a good employee working for them. Just like Frank.

Irma Thielen: I think he's happier, more self-assured. He's a very friendly person to begin with, and I think he really likes it. I think he's very happy working where he is.

Amy Powell: In addition to self-esteem, Frank's job in the community also gives him an opportunity to develop important social skills and relationships. But perhaps the most important thing Frank has gained through his job is a large measure of independence.

name: [laughter]

Frank Thielen: [Inaudible]. Have a nice day.

Amy Powell: Just as the new way of thinking has broadened employment opportunities available for individuals with disabilities, so too has it changed the options regarding living arrangements. In the past, federal funding has limited the choice of living arrangements to either state institutions or group homes. Furthermore, individuals have had to fit into existing services rather than having services arranged to meet their specific needs. Recent changes have made it easier to use federal funds to provide a much broader and more typical range of housing options. This has enabled individuals to live in their own communities and receive services more appropriate to their individual needs.

Susan has lived in a foster home in rural Minnesota since she was almost two years old, but her parents are getting older and are no longer able to care for all of her physical needs. A program in her community is helping to provide the services and equipment needed by her parents to keep Susan living at home.

Patricia Atwood: Her foster parents have more difficulty now transferring her into a car, so they're finding they can't take her to the grocery store as easily. So they have a respite care provider coming in once a week to care for her so that they can do some things on their own.

woman: It looks like you were out in the sun today. Did you guys go out into the sun today?

Susan Pelzer: Yeah.

Amy Powell: Diane faced a similar situation. She lived in her own home until her mother became too frail for her. Because of these new options, she was able to move into a supported living arrangement in the same community. Here she has her own room, continues to enjoy a typical family life, and remains close to her friends and family.

woman: Frannie's pretty sharp on this team. You better watch out.

Amy Powell: All people with developmental disabilities could benefit immensely from living at home or in a homelike setting. Currently, efforts are underway in Congress to reform how federal funds can be used. Over five billion dollars are spent on placement in group homes and state institutions each year. By redirecting these funds, more people can live and work in the community. At a recent United Cerebral Palsy conference, noted authority Hank Bersani explained what needs to be done.

Hank Bersani: We need to say we're going to redirect all that money at the federal level to keeping children with their parents, young adults living with roommates, adults getting their own homes in regular neighborhoods, supported employment and so that people will truly be a part of the community, and it will be the operationalizing of that new way of thinking.

Amy Powell: As we have seen throughout this program, a new way of thinking has been a catalyst for many important and exciting changes in the lives of people with developmental disabilities. In the publication, A New Way of Thinking, put out by the Governor's Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities, Hubert Humphrey is quoted as saying, "The time has come when we can no longer tolerate the invisibility of the handicapped in America. These people have the right to live, to work and, to the best of their ability, to know the dignity to which every human being is entitled."

This is a message that must be stressed again and again as we seek to end the segregation and isolation of individuals with disabilities by bringing them more fully into our lives and communities where they can receive the love, the friendship, the respect and the dignity that comes only with living in real homes, learning in regular school and working at real jobs.