In Australia, an estimated 450,000 people are living with intellectual disabilities.
Many of these individuals develop intellectual disabilities before they reach adulthood, affecting the way they communicate and go about their daily lives.
Intellectual disabilities are diverse and they can be caused by many different factors, such as genetic conditions or birth-related issues. While many adults with disabilities are capable of living life fairly independently, some may need constant support and supervision.
Supporting an adult with intellectual disabilities comes with its challenges, but there are still ways to help a person under your care with intellectual disabilities and improve their quality of life.
Here’s how you can support an adult living with an intellectual disability.
Find the right way to communicate
Communicating with an adult living with an intellectual disability can be difficult, especially when you don’t have much experience. It’s still, however, important to be respectful in all your communications.
Avoid talking down to them or treating them like children; always speak to them the same way you would speak to anyone else.
- Make sure you speak clearly and always maintain eye contact.
- Speak in simple sentences and give the person under your care time to understand what you have said and give you an answer.
- Avoid using acronyms, puns, and metaphors, as these may be difficult to understand for some.
Most people with disabilities prefer to be spoken to directly, so encourage others to speak directly to the person under your care, if that’s what they want.
It’s best to have fewer people around when communicating with a person with intellectual disabilities. This will naturally lower the chances of interruptions or distractions when you’re trying to speak to them. Having fewer people around may also be better for the person under your care as some individuals with disabilities might feel uncomfortable, or find it difficult to concentrate, when there are too many people around them.
Body language is also very important as some individuals with intellectual disabilities often rely on non-verbal cues when communicating. It’s important to remember, however, that some people with intellectual disabilities may not use the same body language you are used to. This may give the appearance that they aren’t listening, but that isn’t always the case.
If the person under your care has unique communication requirements or is non-verbal, speak with a professional to find out the most effective way to communicate with them.
Find activities that can help them develop their skills
While many individuals with disabilities are capable of learning important life skills the same way as everyone else, some may require a different approach to picking up these skills.
Recreational activities could help the person under your care learn new skills and enjoy themselves at the same time.
Some activities that could help include:
- Arts and crafts
Painting, sculpting, and handicrafts can help the person under your care develop their creative skills as well as good hand-eye coordination. To some people with intellectual disabilities, art can also be a platform for them to express themselves in ways they can’t through traditional means.
Gardening is a relaxing activity that can teach responsibility and diligence, and it will give the person under your care the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. Tending to plants and watching them grow also brings a sense of satisfaction and confidence that can uplift any mood.
Jigsaw puzzles and Rubik’s Cubes can help the person under your care develop their problem-solving and fine motor skills. Solving puzzles can also give them a sense of accomplishment, and help build their confidence.
This is also a fun activity that they can do with you and with their peers.
By learning how to cook, the person under your care can learn how to be more self-reliant and give them an outlet to exercise their creativity by coming up with their own recipes. Additionally, cooking can teach them skills like how to measure ingredients, set a table, and clean up after they're done.
These activities may be difficult to pick up the first time, so always be ready to give the person under your care some guidance before they try out these activities.
Make sure they stay fit and healthy
Encourage the person under your care to exercise regularly. Even simple exercises like jogging, brisk walking, stretching, and lifting light weights can help keep a person fit, especially when it’s paired with a healthy diet.
Today, some sports that can be enjoyed by people with intellectual disabilities include football, athletics, swimming, cycling, and tennis. These sports are more than just a great way to stay healthy. They also allow the person under your care to learn about teamwork and develop meaningful bonds with their peers.
Along with daily exercise, make sure that they have a balanced diet—that adheres to their specific nutritional needs—and that they drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
One great way to help encourage the person under your care to take of themselves is by placing reminders in the form of pictures around their living space or setting a reminder on a digital device, if they own one. For example, if the individual in your care often forgets to drink enough water every day, you can remind them by placing images of water glasses throughout their space or setting reminders every hour to stay hydrated.
Give them opportunities to be more independent
Some individuals with intellectual disabilities may require a bit of help to accomplish their daily activities. You should take every opportunity possible, however, to encourage them to be more independent.
Show the person under your care the proper way to get through their routine, but gradually allow them to start managing these activities by themselves with as little help from you as possible.
To help them get started, you can create a daily schedule. This can remind them of the tasks they need to do, and when they need to be completed. Over time, this will help them settle into a daily routine that they can follow without missing a beat.
With the right support, an adult living with an intellectual disability can live the life they want
Despite the challenges they may face, a person with an intellectual disability can live the way they choose with the support they need.
Today, Australia has disability support providers offering services like supported independent living and peer support that can help individuals with intellectual disabilities enrich their lives and become more independent.
Speak to a reputed disability service provider to learn more about how you can help individuals with disabilities.
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