Photo Credit: The NY Alliance

A supporter is someone that generally a DM knows and trusts. Generally, good supporters have an understanding of the DMs’ abilities, learning styles, and personality and are aware of how the DM’s strengths and weaknesses may affect her decision-making process. When supporting a DM, a skilled supporter:

    • listens more than talks
    • repeats, reviews and simplifies information for a DM
    • observes the DM’s body language
    • encourages purposeful conversations led by the DM
    • asks open-ended questions
    • helps the DM to give authentic responses instead of those that a supporter prefers, and
    • focuses on the DM’s strengths rather than weaknesses.

Importantly, supporters do NOT rescue. A “rescuer” gives advice, controls, knows best, disempowers, jumps to conclusions, doesn’t listen, and talks a lot. By contrast, a skilled supporter listens, respects, reflects, explores, assists, empowers. A “rescuer,” for example might try to complete a task for a DM, instead of allowing her to assume the responsibility for completing that task, despite the possibility that she might not do it successfully—or at least as well as the would-be “rescuer”—and that the DM might face unwanted consequences. Instead, a supporter believes in the “dignity of risk,” which means that sometimes a DM’s decisions will not go in the way that DM or supporters prefer, but that every “poor” decision may present a valuable learning opportunity that will help the DM in the long run. In the words of Robert Peske, “To deny the right to make choices in an effort to protect the person with disabilities from risk is to diminish their human dignity.”

Last, support can come in many different forms, and supporters should always be aware of and respect the kinds of support that DMs prefer. Supporters can help DMs by:

    • gathering necessary information
    • educating the DM about that information
    • identifying possibilities and alternatives
    • aiding the DM in weighing choices and understanding consequences
    • communicating the DM’s decision to others, and
    • helping to implement the DM’s decision.

Supporters should offer the kinds of support specified by the DM and provide support ONLY in the decision-making areas desired by the DM. For example, for a DM who has specified in her supported decision-making agreement that she only wants one parent to help her gather information about financial decisions, that parent should not then try to advocate for one option over another. Also, if she wants another parent to explain to her what the information gathered by the first parent means, then only the second parent should do that. And the second parent should not gather additional information, unless the DM decides to modify the terms of her supported decision-making agreement.