The role of the “advocate” is one I believe counselors are naturally aligned to, and should consider. One example where I currently serve as an advocate is vocational training for intellectually challenged adults. The reality is that most of us, on or about the age of 16, were able to get a hiring manager to “take a shot in the dark” and hire us with no experience. The unfortunately truth is that isn’t the case for the developmentally disabled or the intellectually challenged population, thereby necessitating the need for “transition placement” and subsequent advocacy on the behalf of that population.
Understandably, the business establishment has good reason to be weary of something it does not fully understand… I think that is part of human nature and cannot be faulted to a certain degree. Every hiring manager should have the reassurance that someone is capable of fulfilling their duties as an employee, and it’s not entirely unreasonable to ask the question of someone who is intellectually challenged (after all, they would ask it of a “normal” applicant). Vocational training gives people with developmental disabilities the opportunity to prove themselves, and the opportunity to demonstrate that they “have valuable skills” and can make a “lasting contribution to a business.”
For example, I currently work with an individual who only 8 years ago was “pigeon-holed” by the developmental model. It was assumed that this particular individual would never grow “beyond the capacity of a child” and, as a result, he was largely treated as a child. Through a rigorous process of cognitive, social and skills training… he has become “one of the most productive people on the line” at a local business. I recently spoke with his employer, and he “regrets even hesitating to pick him up, as he now considers him among the most competent employees he has.” Granted, the work is pretty basic, but this particular individual is fiercely loyal, driven to succeed, and competent at most basic assembly tasks. That kind of independence would not have been possible without our advocacy.
Despite the fact that I am not yet a full time paid therapist, I can play the advocate role today. Even now, I have clients who are consistently told by family and friends that “they will never be able to do that.” I endeavor to break as many of those molds as is possible, as I believe in the general premise put forth by Dr. Marc Gold: “The behaviors our children show are a reflection of our incompetence, not theirs.” With regard to the training I would need to fulfill that role, I believe it is already underway. I would be better able to advocate for an individual as a therapist, because I could bring the weight of a DSM-IV diagnosis to bear, and speak with knowledge about “what’s typical” and “what’s realistic” for a specific individual. I believe the role as an advocate, especially for people whom are intellectually challenged, is key role we as counselors can play in their development of cognitive, social, skills based functioning.