Safeguarding the future conference - Canberra, 23-24 May 2024

A child sits alone as if in time out

The power of valued roles in “managing behaviour”

I recently heard an author speak about his recently published e-book, Lessons in Listening by Yeiter. Parts of this book discuss how to support individuals with a disability who are also known for being difficult, aggressive, violent, and labelled as a “behaviour problem”.

Yeiter’s powerful storytelling made me wonder how often a person’s behaviour becomes an amplified focus of our attention. How often do we leap to the task of changing the behaviour without considering what might be the underlying cause?

Yeiter shared the stories of four people who had reputations of being ‘the vomiter’, ‘the tantrum thrower’, ‘a danger’ and ‘a menace’. Many professionals were engaged to ‘fix’ the behaviour, including occupational therapists, clinical psychologists, and behaviour specialists. But, regardless of what the professionals tried, in each case, the person’s behaviour didn’t change.

Using Valued Roles in managing behaviour

Here at Imagine More, we often discuss the importance of valued roles in everybody’s lives. Each role gives us purpose and a meaningful way to contribute to our respective communities.

Not surprisingly, this was also a common thread through Yeiter’s stories. Each person’s behaviour was trying to communicate a message. It should be our job to work out what the person is trying to tell us, especially if they cannot articulate their needs and desires.

Yeiter described his approach to supporting each young person to find joy and purpose. He didn’t pay any attention to the person’s undesirable behaviour. Instead, he looked at how they spent their day and looked for what their interests might be.

He discovered that each person’s day was

  • filled with age-inappropriate and meaningless activities. For example, one person had been learning to spell their name for 12 years, and a 17-year-old’s daily activities included Circle Time.
  • often focused on behaviour management.

Taking time to discover the person’s interests…

After spending time with each person, Yeiter found he could identify at least one thing that interested them. In some cases, these interests were small. One young woman was interested in watching her mother cook; a young man was interested in reading.

…then supporting the person into aligned valued roles

Yeiter then supported each person to take up a valued role based on their interest: these included

  • teacher’s assistant, reading to year one students
  • a shopping assistant
  • an alter boy at the local church and
  • a kitchenhand.

Once each person had a valued role, their undesirable behaviour disappeared over time.

This story makes me wonder how many people in our community are trapped in various settings where they are only afforded an opportunity if their behaviour changes or improves.

You may ask, what can we do?

Yeiter talked about crafting not just a vision but a micro-vision to ensure each person could take up a valued role and thereby contribute and participate in their community.

So often, we become consumed by a person’s behaviour.  It’s helpful to wonder whether the behaviour has an underlying cause such as boredom, anxiety or being stuck in a life-wasting activity. As a parent, I, too, have been guilty of taking the “behaviour-lensing” approach with all good intentions. But it is never too late to change how we support people in our lives.

I invite you all to embrace Yeiter’s approach to supporting people with disability to get the good things in life. Look for the interest and use it to craft a valued role. We all need purpose and meaning in our lives.

You can download Yeiter’s book, Lessons on Listening, (for free in June 2022), from the Inclusion Press website.