How data can support adults with developmental disabilities beyond the classroom
by Angela Nelson
In recent years, there’s been a real push to beef up data in special education classrooms to objectively track progress, make data-based decisions, and help to make the IEP process run more smoothly regarding goal mastery and provision of services. This move toward data collection and data-based decision making has been invaluable in helping teachers better understand and support the needs of their students. As important as data is in the classroom, it shouldn’t end when students with disabilities leave school. I challenge you to think one step further- adults with developmental disabilities.
My career has been eclectic. I’ve worked with many, many children–at school, in their homes, and in the community. Working with kids is a blast but there has also been something pretty cool about working with adults and helping them achieve their life goals, especially around their career aspirations.
Over the last several years, I’ve worked to supervise a candidate pursing her BCBA certification. She has dedicated her career to supporting individuals with developmental disabilities find and maintain meaningful employment opportunities. Over these years, we’ve created countless protocols, programs, and checklists to help these individuals have more fruitful relationships with colleagues and supervisors, become more independent on the job, self-monitor their own behavior, and increase their productivity. One thing all these activities have in common is data.
Below are some ways to easily integrate data (yup, the gold standard people) into employment for adults with disabilities…
1. Use data to teach.
That’s right folks. More and more programs are integrating applied behavior analysis (ABA) into adult programs (take the Douglass Adult Program at Rutgers or Job Path in NYC, for example- cool!). One focus here is making data-based decisions and using data to drive programming, just like we do in the classroom.
One individual we worked with had challenges with initiating work tasks, as in, he needed to be told what to do every day. What we did was create an Almanac of Solutions, complete with checklists directing him of what to do in various situations (e.g., my boss didn’t give me a project so here’s what I can do…). Each checklist had a task analysis written out that we systematically taught him.
Over time, we collected data on his performance, which helped us determine where to go next, whether it be to teach something new, to tweak what we’re doing if it wasn’t catching on, or go in a different direction. He learned a ton of new tasks, his independence soared, and his boss was pretty happy too!
2. Get employees involved.
Now, if you’re picturing me standing over someone’s shoulder, marking each time they make a widget on my clipboard, I would say it’s time to turn the channel. We’ve seen that the employees cannot only self-monitor, but they take pride in it and it can be pretty reinforcing.
One employee we work with has a job organizing files on the computer. Long story short, her productivity skyrocketed when she began to track how many files she organized herself. We’re talking like doubling and tripling baseline!
We didn’t stop there…she loves data herself and so we regularly graph her productivity, track her progress towards her mastery criteria (which she helped generate), and provide reinforcement for reaching mastery (office-related items she can earn like decorative staplers and pens).
3. Provide employers with good news!
What do I mean here? Use data to help these employees maintain their jobs and get promoted! Cool, right? Yes, we think so too.
Some employers don’t have experience employing or even interacting with someone with a disability. Some have a tendency to look to us or even talk to us as a liaison instead of directly to the employee. What we’ve done is asked employers what is important to them in terms of job performance and productivity. Then we’ve helped them to create customized performance reviews that can be objectively scored. Finally, we began using the reviews with the individuals we support so we and everyone else knows how they are doing. We then showed the employer not only how to fill out the reviews so they can begin to interact directly with the employee but also how to provide feedback in a way that the employee can understand. As their performance improves, there is objective evidence that the employee rocking their job! Promotion, anyone?
As of September, 2015, the United States Department of Labor states that 19.1% of the workforce is comprised of people with disabilities. Though there are still many who are not employed, the numbers are increasing and it’s due, in part, to objectively showing through data that these employees are capable of performing their jobs and can learn amazing skills. They can participate. They can create. They can interact and engage. Let’s keep going down this road and use our data to continue to support people with disabilities in being successful.