The Essentials of Supporting Choice
As many people have discovered, understanding and supporting choice is not as simple as it sounds. Each person brings unique abilities and experiences to the act of choosing. Personality, preferences, life experiences and social context all influence what people want. Enabling people to make choices requires forming a relationship with each person and making a commitment to providing opportunities for them to make choices and learn from their experience.
Understanding what is most important to each person is the first step in supporting people to make choices. While traditional planning activities include setting individual goals and objectives, too often service goals are identified based on the service organization's perception of the person's needs. Service goals may not reflect the personal goals and desires of the person. Personal goals are a reflection of the person. These cannot be developed for the person by others. Discovering each person's individual priorities involves taking time to listen to, interact with and learn from the person.
Our personal experience also plays an important role in making choices. People are likely to seek and want things they know and with which they are familiar. Choice may be limited when options are unknown or not fully explored. Opportunities to learn about and experience a variety of things in life provide people with a point of reference from which they can evaluate what they want in the future.
The choices people make are often influenced by relationships with family, friends and other people in their lives. Decisions about what people do are often affected by their understanding of the expectations and desires of people who are important to them. Personal choices may be guided as much by the desire to please others (or at least not to disappoint or upset) as by individual experience and desire. A good relationship between support staff and the person served can serve to facilitate individual choice.
Careful observation and trial experiences can help us to understand what people want. Assessment of the person's preferences for people, places and activities provides baseline insight into the person's unique personality. These initial indications about the person can be used to suggest or select new experiences which people may find interesting. We can then further our understanding of the person's preferences and desires by paying attention to how the person reacts in these new situations.
Each person's choices are uniquely individual. The choices people make must be understood within the person's priorities and situation. We can help people to explore choices and seek alternatives, but, a strong relationship based on mutual respect is the most effective tool for assisting people to make choices in life. Supporting individual choice requires commitment to discovering and respecting each person's priorities. Caring and creative support can expand the opportunities for people to direct their lives.