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Creating an environment that is supportive to the person

Creating a supportive environment takes some careful thought and time. For everyone who uses supports and services, we need to know the key characteristics of a supportive environment for that person. Our environment is defined more than just by physical space, but by interactions and ambience. We can begin to understand what a supportive environment looks or feels like to a person by talking with the person and those who know them well. We can do this by observing and checking back with them and others who know them, to make sure our observations are correct.

Look around the room and see if there are some things important to the person present in that person’s life. For example, if family is important to the person, do we see pictures of their family around the house, or cards from family members displayed? If a person enjoys listening to rock music, do they have pictures of bands or musicians in their room; do they have a place to listen to this music? If the person likes time to relax, do they have a space designed that promotes relaxation? 

Look around the room and see if interactions between people are encouraging, reassuring and empathetic. What opportunities do you see to have a reassuring interaction with someone? For example, do you see or hear things like, “How is it going?” “What are you doing today?” or “Tell me a little about the show you were just watching.” These type of interactions are interesting to others and leave people feeling valued. We want to have many interactions throughout the day that are neutral, that are not a request or direction, so people feel valued. It is important to ensure communications are not just around logistics. We want to make sure social connections are a central part of a person’s environment at all times. 

Environmental arrangements may even encourage communication and social interactions. Look around the room and see where things are placed. Does the placement make sense to the person? For example, moving games out of a storage cabinet may help prompt a person to access the games more independently and encourage them to play with others. 

Sometimes simply shifting things around in the physical environment can help people feel more comfortable and reduce or eliminate negative experiences. Does someone get anxious about going out somewhere? Perhaps things needed to go out are kept out of sight until just prior to leaving. The more planning you can do with a person to set up the environment or their space to minimize the occurrences of problems, the less effort you will spend putting out fires.

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