Handle with Care: Caregiver Relationships

A person with a disability needs to acknowledge that he or she needs help with certain tasks. These needs for assistance can be temporary or permanent. Either way, therapists at Easter Seals will help clients gain maximum independence; however, we need people to help us along the way. Our parents may be the first to help individuals with disabilities with these tasks but as we mature into young adults, personal care attendants may become the ones helping us with these tasks. Since personal care attendants or PCAs perform incredibly intimate tasks for us, the relationship has to feel right.

The bond between a PCA and the person needing care should be equal. There should be equal respect, honesty, and caring within the relationship. The PCA should never abuse the person who needs care. I have to write that because it is so important, any form of abuse should NOT be part of the relationship. On a different note, the caregiver should respect how the person who needs care wants things done. They can respectfully suggest a different way; however, the individual with a disability should have the final call in how she or he wants things done. On the other hand, the person with the disability has to respect the PCA. He or she has to respect the assigned hours and needs of the PCA. The person with the disability cannot guilt the PCA into performing tasks that the PCA did not initially agree to. As time goes on, both parties will feel more comfortable with each other and because of the comfort level in the relationship, responsibilities may naturally increase.

Amy Liss and her assistantHonesty is also important in the relationship. For example, if the PCA is going to be late…just be honest! PCAs have lives of their own and may have to be late every now and then which is completely understandable. On the flip side, the person with the disability has to be honest and upfront about their needs. The person who needs care can’t minimize the workload or lie about tasks such as how much physical lifting is required. If you have respect and honesty, you will have a good foundation.

The question is: how do you find this? Frankly, I don’t have the magic potion but I can share my techniques from my life experiences. When I need to find a PCA, my mother goes on Craigslist and writes a very descriptive job posting. After she e-mails a few candidates, we choose the ones I will meet with and I see how our personalities align. If I don’t feel like we would be compatible, we move on and interview someone else. When I did find someone else that I knew was a great fit, my mother comes out and trains her. We tell her about my disability and they practice performing personal care tasks for me. After that, it’s our first day together and it could be the start of a relationship that last years.

I know that if you genuinely care about each other, the relationship will be amazing! To give you an example, my primary PCA, Kim started with me freshman year of college and is still with me because we had a foundation of caring that led to a great amount of respect and honesty. These relationships can lead to wonderful friendships if you handle them with care.

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