A Brief History of Supports

What started as a way to support a few people who were at risk for being left behind has grown into an international community whose work is impacting public policy in many states, provinces, and countries.

Separate and NOT equal

Big institutions. Segregated living. The early history of large-scale publicly funded support for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the United States primarily involved separate, institutional settings. While generally well-intended, these congregate living situations evolved into segregated worlds at best and hellish nightmares of abuse and neglect, at worst.

Left Behind

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a delayed response to civil and disability rights movements in the U.S. resulted in a movement toward deinstitutionalization, spurred on mostly by class-action lawsuits. The process of deinstitutionalization was slowed and stymied by the belief that certain people were not “fit” to live in the community and were dangerous to themselves and others. Enter the famous Michael Smull and Susan Burke-Harrison of the University of Maryland. This duo was invited to help get these “challenging” people “ready” to move to “the community.”

A Different Lens

Smull and Burke-Harrison quickly realized that the problem was not with the people living with ID/DD, rather it was the failure of current planning processes to truly understand who the people were and what type of supports would actually be helpful. The more they worked with these folks whose humanity was being rejected, the more they realized that what was being viewed as negative behavior was actually human beings responding pretty typically to toxic environments, loss of control and lives dominated by health and safety. 

Finding A Balance

In response to their discovery, Michael and Susan developed Essential Lifestyle Planning (ELP). This approach to planning was built on the concepts of Important TO and Important FOR, the connection and balance between Health/Safety and Happiness, and the importance of positive control in human lives.

This approach to planning was so successful, it spread like wildfire. More and more professionals began using these concepts and adding new ideas and approaches to ELP. As their network of practitioners grew, they began teaching each other and other professionals better approaches to planning with the people they support.

Beyond Planning

It did not take long for them to realize that planning was only the beginning of the journey. They noticed that wonderful plans that were not used were actually more hurtful than helpful to people who use supports. Recognizing the need for good implementation of initial plans as well as ongoing learning and sharing of learning, with their colleagues, they designed training for the people who were providing the supports.

A Journey

Very quickly the group recognized themselves as learners as well as trainers on a discovery journey. While they were excited about the energy behind ELP and the high level of interest in the skills and tools, they also recognized the risk of drift away from the person-centered philosophy. To formalize their commitment to ongoing learning and high standards of planning and support, they established The Learning Community for Person Centered Practices and developed a standardized curriculum as well as a certification process for trainers and facilitators.

An International Movement

With the help of an army of practitioners and advocates dedicated to empowering people who were at risk for losing positive control in their lives, ELP which evolved into Person Centered Thinking and Planning has moved across the globe and grown into a movement in and of itself. TLCPCP uses shared learning to develop new skills and tools and refine existing ones as well as adding additional curricula and creating new ways for practitioners to connect and share their learning. What Michael Smull and Susan Burke-Harrison started as a way to support a few people who were at risk for being left behind has grown into an international community of more than 1500 practitioners circling the globe and their work is impacting public policy in many states, provinces, and countries.