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  • Writer's pictureUli K. Chettipally

The Circles Around Us

Updated: May 17, 2020

We, humans, are social beings. We have family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. These are people in concentric circles around us, starting with our intimate family members. When our loved ones have challenges with communication and socializing, it is difficult to naturally form these circles. Can we create an environment that can foster building these circles? Our guest Karen Kaplan talks about Circles here:

The Circles in Your Teen/ Young Adult’s Life

I have always pushed the whole idea of independence, for the students, that have crossed my path in special education settings (public, private, and residential). I still believe that we should work to nurture this philosophy, as it expects us to expect those, who learn in different ways, to reach their highest potential. BUT we must not forget that we are Interdependent beings. We need to be able to develop a community of supports in order to accomplish our goals. So, what about those who have different learning styles? It’s not just a circle of supports to listen to us, give us advice but also circles to provide what we may need to live effectively. Most of us take this notion for granted.

There is a tool parents and educators can use to help identify those circles and then help the individual expand. All My Life’s A Circle by Falvey, Forest, Pearpoint, and Rosenberg outlines this tool. They identify four circles that need to be developed, so the individual does not feel isolated and without connections to help them live, work, and recreate in their own communities.

This project can be completed at school with a teacher or counselor. This project can be created at home with parents. This project can be completed if someone lives in a supported living environment with the help of the house manager. Four circles are drawn, with the smallest circle being in the middle. In the middle of that circle, place a picture of the person the plan is focused on (daughter, son, student, resident).

The first circle around the person is called his/her Circle of Intimacy. Here the person names all the closet people in their lives, perhaps some have passed but could be listed. These could be parents, grandparents, husband, wife or siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins. The second circle is the Circle of Friendship. Explain that these are close friends but not as close as family. The third circle is called the Circle of Participation. Explain that these are people you like but not close to. Maybe, someone, you know at church or in a class you are taking. These are people you only see occasionally. The fourth circle is called the Circle of Exchange. These are people we pay to be in our lives, like the doctor, dentist, housekeeper, veterinarian, and plumber.

I believe we learn a great deal by completing this exercise. Does the individual you are supporting actually know who are the people placed in each circle? Do they remember their names? Do they have a picture of them? Do they know how to connect with them? (phone, address, email). Have they been programmed into their iPhone or tablet? Do any of these goals need to be put on their next education plan or Individual Program Plan (IPP)? Do they have friends? Do they understand what friendship is? Do they need to learn how to make a friend, schedule a date with a friend, and keep a friend? How can they make friends, now? Can they join a group that enjoys the same activities as they do and begin to develop this important circle? Can they learn the communication skills they need to call, invite, converse with a friend? Does this goal need to be put on their program plan? Is this something the speech therapist could work on at school?

If these young people are living in a group situation or with another roommate, do they know how to take care of the house or apartment needs and who to call for help? If they live with their family, do they understand what helpers the family calls upon to help take care of the home? (electrician, plumber, pool maintenance, lawn or garden maintenance, heat, and air-conditioning repair).

This circle of exchange is important for their independence. But first, they need to have their attention drawn to it and then begin to develop this circle. They can create a list for their refrigerators or iPhone. House managers can prepare a binder with helpers’ names and contact information, for them to refer to, with a picture when possible. Parents can have them listen when they call helpers, meet helpers, and see how they are paid and thanked. Home care doesn’t happen magically.

In addition, the person needs to understand who their wellness helpers are. They need to know that their physical body, their teeth, their eyes all need support. They need a list of wellness helpers to refer to. Perhaps a picture of that doctor can be obtained and put next to their name. Perhaps a picture of the body part they take care of can be put with the entry. What about filling a prescription? Do they know their pharmacist? These are all people that need to be included in the Circle of Exchange.

So, no time like the present to look at your son, daughter’s, student, resident, or guests CIRCLES and see what needs to be created to help support independence and interdependence.

About the Author:

"I have been founding and directing schools for children with autism since 1980, both day and residential. I completed my master’s degree in speech pathology and obtained my special education and administrative credentials. In 2012 I founded a small non-profit, Offerings, which traveled globally to help other cultures understand autism and other learning differences. I help found the Marin County Autism Collaborative and have enjoyed teaching at Universities in their credentialing departments. My joy comes from helping professionals and families have hope, see possibilities, and connect to resources to help make things happen for their student, son, daughter, or grandchild."

“Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible” ~Helen Keller

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