Ethan’s Alternative Tomorrow: A PATH Toward Social Inclusion
Ethan’s Alternative Tomorrow
Hang out with Ethan for a day and you quickly become enamored with this unique young man. He charms you with his clever wit, his love for classic rock music, and his interest in all-things-military. At 14, he’s already debating the options of going to college or enlisting in the armed forces. His mannerly demeanor and exceptional artistic ability suggest the maturity and perspective of someone older, with broader life experiences.
Ethan is diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder, an autism spectrum disorder that affects social interaction and communication. He finds it difficult to develop friendships, and gets anxious when interacting with people he does not know well. As a result, Ethan has spent a great deal of time indoors these past several years and has opted for home schooling. At an age when most children are expanding their social networks, Ethan’s daily routine had narrowed to include very limited community involvement.
Ethan registered for services with a statewide agency that supports individuals with autism, and enrolled in a program that engages families and other support providers in a process of positive behavior support (PBS). This process guides the focus individual and their team through proactive goal setting, assessment of behavior, skill development, and the evaluation of progress. Ethan’s team—which included his mother and father, school teacher, school aide, a school-based autism specialist, and a professional with the statewide project—dedicated themselves to supporting his efforts.
One person-centered planning tool used in this process is Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope, or PATH (Pearpoint, O’Brien & Forest, 1998), which assists with short- and long-term goal planning. Teams explore the focus person’s Dream, and then outlines the journey through which it can be realized. The PATH is completed at the beginning of the PBS process, and it helps team members emphasize supporting individuals in their personal growth, rather than just managing problem behavior. Managing behavior is an approach that is often reactive and expert driven. On the other hand, PATHs promote the development of skills necessary to live effectively, and suggests a relationship of equality, where choice and personal needs are integral to successful outcomes.
Related: A PATH to the Future
Ethan’s PATH facilitator guided team members in a creative, sequential process that illustrated Positive and Possible Goals to propel Ethan toward his Dream, and the strengths and abilities that team members possessed Now that would aid that effort. They created plans to make the team Stronger, and then established well-defined action steps at 3 Months, 1 Month, and the initial First Steps that would demonstrate to Ethan that progress was being made. Team members identified others in the community that could support Ethan’s Dream with their skill and talents, and invited them to participate during the PATH’s Enrollment stage.
At the start of Ethan’s PATH, team members were asked to think big! The facilitator created a safe, dynamic environment in which Ethan’s values and ideals were explored, and then used to form the foundation for the PATH. While all Dreams may not be literally achieved, most can be fulfilled by addressing the underlying needs inherent in the goal. Ethan’s Dream formed around social themes; he wanted to travel, participate in the arts, serve in the military, and be active in his community. He thought a post-secondary education was important, and he wanted to experience adventure.
Ethan understood that realizing his dream would require him to connect socially with others, and that learning strategies to overcome his extreme anxiety was necessary. He had some work to do since interactions were enormously challenging for him. He especially dreaded small talk. He answered “yes” or “no” in conversation even when not asked a question, and his misunderstanding of conversational rules caused him to interrupt others regularly in mid-sentence. The team identified his need to improve social skills, increase community involvement, and expand self-help skills as Positive and Possible Goals. Each goal was within Ethan’s ability to reach quickly, and the team planned to assess his progress at six months.
Team members explored the challenges of this journey during the Now portion of the PATH, as they joined Ethan in answering: “What is my life like now?” His PATH revealed a desire for a socially healthy lifestyle, despite being secluded at the start of the process. A significant distance would have to be traveled for Ethan to reach his Dream. The team researched and cataloged current resources available to support his efforts. Swim clubs were identified as a fun way for Ethan to participate in a social activity, and he toured local high schools to discover what it would be like to attend a campus-based school.
It became clear as Ethan’s PATH evolved that he would encounter people in his journey who would impede his progress, and others who would encourage it. For example, the coordinator of a statewide arts program was identified as being beneficial to Ethan’s goals, and was invited to participate in the planning. The coordinator played a key role in helping Ethan display his artwork in a local exhibition, which bolstered his confidence and encouraged him to participate further in statewide competitions.
Related: Patricia Moody’s PATH to Success
Strategies to support the team’s durability and focus were developed during the Stronger stage. Simple solutions, like ensuring meeting dates and times accommodated the work schedules of all team members, helped the team remain resilient as it worked backwards to develop Ethan’s goals.
During First Steps, team members visited Ethan’s school, set a date to assess teaching strategies, and decided how to distribute the PATH to others involved in his life. At 1 Month they assessed Ethan’s preference of visual calendar styles, listed local activities he might enjoy, and inventoried his art collection. At 3 Months, Ethan agreed to plan an art exhibition, use a daily planner for organization, and explore community activities in which he’d like to participate. One of the community activities listed became a catalyst for significant growth. Ethan joined a local 4-H group, where he worked with other youth to raise and exhibit a lamb. This activity resulted in a 200% increase in his interactions with non-family peers. Perhaps the most important PATH outcome was the skills Ethan learned that supported his smooth transition into full-time regular education at his local high school. This young man, who was once too anxious to socialize, could now be found cheering alongside classmates at his high school football games. He’s formed several friendships. A family member recently described Ethan as “engaging,” and “fun to talk to,” and directly linked his increased confidence and improved social skills to his PATH. Ethan continues to exhibit his artwork, and enjoys traveling to tourist locations across the state. During this process, Ethan experienced what many who have used the PATH know: to reach his potential, Ethan had to first discover his dream.
Falvey, M., Forest, M., Pearpoint, J, & Rosenberg, R.(2000) All My Life’s A Circle: Using the tools: Circles, MAPS & PATHS. Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Inclusion Press
Pearpoint, J., O’Brien, J., Forest, M. (1998) PATH: A Workbook For Planning Positive Futures. Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Inclusion Press
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- Inclusive Bathrooms: Let’s Start Talking About It
- Social Club Extends Inclusion Beyond the Classroom
- Ethan’s Alternative Tomorrow: A PATH Toward Social Inclusion
- Unified Sports: A Great Way to Start Inclusion in a Fun and Positive Way
This post originally appeared on our March/April 2011 Magazine