Intellectual Disability and Self-Regulation: Jason’s List.

Jason's list of program rules.

Last week, Jason took it upon himself to draw up a set of rules for his time in program:

1) Give teachers respect
2) Have my pants pulled up
3) Stay with the group
4) Be safe
5) No complaining in program
6) Be prepared for program
7) Be at cafe by 8:30

I asked Jason what prompted him to make his list. In typical Jason fashion he replied, “So I can remember not to mess up in program.” As Jason matures, his leadership qualities are starting to shine. Jason has made remarkable progress over the last two years; he is living independently in a group home, he works three days a week and he is finding positive ways to direct his inexhaustible energy to get what he wants and needs out of the world. This wasn’t always so; that inexhaustible energy was problematic when Jason first joined our ACAT transition program and we had some serious issues.

It isn’t unusual for participants coming into our community-based transition program to mistake the lack of physical boundaries for a complete lack of any boundaries. There are no classrooms walls here; no fences; no security guards. Of course this doesn’t mean there are no rules. There are in fact very strong rules and paramount among them is that we are all responsible for our own actions. If we mess up, it is our job to take responsibility for our mistakes and to find a way to make things right.

An essential element of the ACAT Program is Self-Determination skill development and an important component of Self-Determination is Self-Regulation, which involves the ability to control our behavior. This was difficult for Jason at first, particularly with personal space and anger control. Learning to regulate those things took a lot of practice and patience for Jason, his family and the ACAT staff who supported him.

When he had issues, Jason was given very clear boundaries about what was expected of him, what behaviors were not acceptable in program and what the consequences were of not staying within these boundaries. His actions however were never shamed and he was never made to feel that he was a “bad” person. We looked at ways the program could best support Jason by creating spaces where mistakes would be less likely to occur. We created a smaller group for him and matched him with participants he had friendships with. Along with being clear about boundaries, we provided him with a toolkit of alternative responses to situations where his emotions might become overwhelmed. We maintained a supportive and positive space for him even in those times when issues arose.

One day Jason stopped to get a cup of water at a cafe while his group waited just outside for him. He accidently bumped into a table and spilled some of a customer’s coffee. The customer jumped up and started screaming at Jason. In the past this would have the potential to be a major problem, but instead of engaging with the customer, Jason walked away and found his teacher, Johnny who supported Jason as he calmed himself. In the five years of the ACAT Program’s existence, this moment is one of the most beautiful I can remember. It was a defining moment for Jason and he has been the model of Self-Regulation and personal responsibility ever since.

Jason provides a great example of the importance of Self-Determination Skills instruction. Jason’s actions belong to him. His success is of his own making and he is wonderfully aware of that. The ACAT program provides Jason with clear expectations and boundaries. We provide positive, non-judgmental space for him to grow, take risks and at times to fail miserably without shame. Jason’s teachers, Johnny Diaz and Jason Guy are positive role models who care a great deal about Jason’s success. It is within this framework that Jason has excelled. I asked him how he feels now when he makes a mistake as opposed to how he felt two years ago. Jason said, “Now I know when I mess up, I can fix it myself.”

[Note: Jason has read this post and it is his wish that his story is shared].

Brent White is Autistic. He designs and directs adult programs for intellectually and developmentally disabled adults for the non-profit Ala Costa Centers in Berkeley, California.


One Response to Intellectual Disability and Self-Regulation: Jason’s List.

  1. raspycricket says:

    As much as I feel proud of Jason for everything he’s been able to accomplish and figure out for himself, I know that he is even more proud of himself. Not only does he have the skills to navigate through the world successfully and safely, he very much knows it – it’s a beautiful place to be

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