Changing How We See Behaviors

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Bassett

For two years, Behavior Specialist Consultant Jennifer Bassett has helped change how we see big behaviors in people with disabilities.

By Sydney Kerelo

Everyone deserves to feel heard and supported, even those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Millions of people across the globe experience some form of trauma in their lives, which can result in a mental illness or behavioral problem in children and adults.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 22.8 percent of U.S. adults, roughly one in five, experienced mental illness in 2021, and approximately 47.2 percent received treatment. This is why Behavior Specialist Consultant Jennifer Bassett and the rest of the KenCrest Behavioral Health Supports & Services team are dedicated to using trauma-informed practices to ensure each person supported in the program feels seen, heard, and safe.

For the past two years, she’s worked within KenCrest’s Behavioral Health Supports & Services department providing behavior, sexuality, communication, and other therapies to those with an IDD. Throughout her role, Bassett helps individuals expressing strong behaviors understand where they are coming from and encourages them to use safer strategies to express their frustrations.

One gentleman, for example, would always get upset whenever a fire drill happened at his home. But after working with Bassett and the Behavioral Health Supports & Services team, he learned to be accountable for his actions when upset and has developed alternative ways to communicate his frustrations.

“Usually when I come into the house, I ask him how everything’s going, and he’ll normally get nervous and looks at me like, ‘Good, what did you hear?’” laughs Bassett. “But that day, he took immediate accountability. I walked in, asked him how’s it going, and he said, ‘I think I made a mistake,’ and told me about the fire drill. It was a small win because he expressed himself and was able to understand why he got upset and was able to use a better way to show his feelings.”

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Bassett

That is just one of many ‘wins’ Bassett and her department have accomplished in the short two years she’s been with KenCrest.

Since graduating from Neumann College—now Neumann University—Bassett has worked in various human services industry positions, working with children and adults. Previously, she supported individuals with brain injuries ranging from mild to moderate and even became a certified brain injury specialist.

While in memory care, Bassett worked with clients and trained other staff members, encouraging them to create an individualized approach based on knowing that person deeply, building a rapport and gaining their trust.

One of the main things Bassett taught was to use the individual’s behavior plan as a roadmap. To understand that their behavior won’t magically disappear, but to know how to support them when experiencing it. She taught her staff how to work with each person to understand why they are having these behaviors and show them alternative actions they can do in place of them.

“At the end of the day, I tell people that our individuals can’t communicate like you and me, and our job is to maximize their quality of life,” says Bassett. “So, if they are trying to communicate something to us and it’s only coming up behaviorally, then it’s our job to figure out what it is and address it. We need to recognize that they are human with the same emotions we have, and feeling these emotions is normal.”

Bassett helped bring this way of thinking to KenCrest. Paired with a trauma-informed approach, the Behavioral Health Supports & Services department has learned to recognize when someone is going through a big behavior and support them while experiencing it. They have learned that each person has had a past, bad or good, and works with that person to find alternative solutions to help them feel valued, safe, and understood.

According to the Center for Health Care Strategies, trauma-informed care shifts the focus from ‘what’s wrong with you’ to ‘what happened to you.’ It encourages staff members to realize the widespread impact of trauma, to recognize the signs and symptoms in people, and to integrate knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices.

“When I was younger, I used to see people with a disability and get scared because I didn’t understand them,” says Bassett. “But that’s not the same case for my children; we’re changing that for them. Now, when they see someone with a disability, they don’t see them as different. They understand that we are all human, with the same feelings and emotions at the end of the day. We’re changing our future generations’ perception of people with disabilities.”

Interested in learning more about KenCrest’s Behavioral Health Supports & Services program or how to be trauma-informed? Click the links below!