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Variations within Disabilities

Never be afraid to ask a client how you can best support them!

When working with someone who has a disability, it’s important to acknowledge their limits within that disability. Those limits will vastly vary, even with individuals with the same diagnosis, so it’s imperative to have a conversation with that person to understand exactly what their limits may be. But what about when those limits seem to change? What if they were able to do something two days ago during your session, and now they’ve contacted you and said they are unable to perform that task? Does that indicate that their limits are not genuine? Far from it!

Disabilities can fluctuate immensely.

Even with only one disability, what a person is physically capable of doing can change day to day or even hour to hour. A person with a joint disorder may struggle to move in certain ways. A person with a traumatic brain injury may remember your instructions fantastically one day and struggle to retain any information at all the next. A person who is neurodivergent may have felt confident with instructions the day before and now feels overwhelmed by them. These fluctuations are only examples and are NORMAL! Someone’s disability fluctuating is not an indication of deception. And if a person has more than one disability, these fluctuations may be even greater than these examples due to each disability fluctuating.

How can we, as professionals, support these individuals?

Ultimately, it’s best to discuss with the individual what works best for them. It could take a few training sessions for them to figure out what will work best for them. Follow up with email, text, or call (whatever they prefer) and ask how they are doing with the homework or practice you’ve instructed them to do.

Instead of focusing on their particular disability or disabilities, focus on what their limitations are and how you can work within those. If they contact you and let you know that they are now struggling with a particular exercise, look at how the exercise is affecting them and how you can change it to work within their limits. This flexibility may take some creativity! If you are struggling to come up with an answer, instruct your client to hold off on the exercise while you work out a better method for them. Contact a colleague and explain the situation (taking great care to protect the client’s sensitive information) and ask for help on developing modifications that benefit both dog and handler.

Never be afraid to ask a client how you can best support them! Be ready to alter instructions to help them work within their own limitations. Also, have colleagues you are comfortable speaking to available for troubleshooting. And above all, even if you’ve worked with someone with a certain medical condition previously, remember that each person with a disability is unique.

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About the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) Assistance Animal Division

Our volunteer committee includes a broad representation of pet professionals with a variety of skills and interests specific to assistance animals. We invite individuals and professional organizations interested in training, working with, and receiving support from animals who assist people in different ways to join PPG. Pet guardians can join for free.

We look forward to welcoming you into an inclusive group that prioritizes humane treatment and welfare of both people and assistance animals!

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