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Five Tips for Working With Callers or Chat Visitors Who Have an Intellectual/Developmental Disability


Guest blogger Brenda Patterson is the Executive Director of CONTACT the Crisis Line in Jackson, Mississippi, and serves on the Board of Directors for CONTACT USA.

With all callers/chat visitors we practice active listening and unconditional acceptance. We try to use open ended questions when facilitating conversations and summarize the caller/chat visitor’s plan as we close the conversation. When talking to an individual with an intellectual/developmental disability there can be additional considerations. Let’s look at five:

  • Person first language is a topic all by itself. Whether or not you know at the beginning of a call or chat if the individual has a disability using person first language in any conversation is important. Person first language emphasizes the person, not the disability. By placing the person first, the disability is no longer primary, but one of several aspects of the whole person. Examples include: “person with an intellectual disability,” “person who has autism,” “person who is blind,” rather than “the mentally retarded,” “the autistic,” or “the blind.” Also consider how you refer to their challenge and devices that help them adapt. Using phrases such as “person with an addiction/mental health concern” “one who uses a wheelchair” instead of “mental patient,” “drunk,” “druggie,” “invalid,” or “wheelchair bound” is preferable.

  • Consider that people with intellectual/developmental disabilities often share the following thought processes:

      - Difficulty with fluidity and flexibility of thinking

      - A dislike of ambiguity (black and white thinking)

      - Difficulty prioritizing and breaking down tasks into manageable projects

      - A tendency for poor generalization skills (a person belongs in one and only one
      environment and utilization of a skill in one situation but not others)

  • Recognize that individuals with an intellectual/developmental disability may think logically about concrete events, but have difficulty understanding abstract or hypothetical concepts. The use concrete examples when facilitating problem solving is helpful.

  • It’s important to dispel the myth that people with intellectual/developmental disabilities cannot benefit from therapy. In reality many different types of therapy have been found to be effective in treating people with developmental disabilities. Do not hesitate to mention therapy as an option. Although it generally takes longer for people with developmental challenges to make changes, those changes are stable once made.

  • Because there are higher incidents of abuse in people with any disability, the likelihood of trauma related symptoms occurring are greatly increased, which can be mistakenly attributed to the person’s developmental disability or pre-existing mental illness. Trauma responses generally represent a change from the person’s normal level of functioning.

While there are a number of additional tips to consider when talking to an individual with an intellectual/developmental disability, and there are tips which are specific to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder these are primary and apply to all individuals with a developmental disability.

With all callers we want to empower them to advocate for themselves and to generate their own solutions, as well as connecting them with services that can further assist them. Whether you are talking to the individual with an intellectual/developmental disability or their family, it’s important to ask if they are receiving Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) as provided in the state they live in. HCBS provide opportunities for Medicaid beneficiaries to receive services in their own home and community. While waiting lists can be long, the services provided are invaluable and making application early in the individual’s life is important. It can mean they will have the support they need to be independent in adulthood and be happy and content in the life choices they have made.

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iCarol team in Phoenix for NASCOD/CUSA conference

NASCOD CUSA 2016 Conference

Next week Polly and Eliisa will be in Phoenix to participate in the NASCOD/CUSA conference.

This annual conference is special to us — it was one of the very first events that we started attending back many years ago when iCarol was first created and available as a software system for helplines. Many of the crisis centers that make up the NASCOD and CUSA groups were some of our first users and so this conference and this group of people holds a special place in our hearts.

If your center isn’t already accredited by CONTACT USA, or if you aren’t already a NASCOD member, we encourage you to consider both for your helpline.

CONTACT USA provides one of the most well known and respected crisis center accreditations in the industry. When you are accredited by CONTACT USA it shows your funders that they are contributing to a worthwhile and effective program, and also connects you to a national and international community of those who provide emotional support and crisis intervention all over the world. Further, your community will be assured that your organization provides the highest quality of service. To find out more about this accreditation, you can visit their website.

NASCOD membership is a great resource for Executive Directors or Program Managers of crisis centers. The group provides regular peer support calls on a number of different helpful topics, and group members are regularly networking, discussing challenges, sharing ideas, and generally supporting one another. Many NASCOD members are also iCarol clients and we really enjoy our relationship with the group and its members, iCarol users and non-users alike.

So if you’ll be one of the many people in Phoenix later this week, please stop by our booth and say hi! If you use iCarol at your helpline then we’d certainly love to get to visit face to face. If you’re not a current user, we’d be grateful for the opportunity to tell you about iCarol Helpline Software and how it’s used by helplines all over the world, many of whom will be represented at this conference. Hope to see you there!

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Going beyond “Calls” – We need your input

helpline call chat text

More than a decade ago when iCarol was first created by two helpline volunteers, Neil and Jackie McKechnie, helpline work was very much based in serving people via the phone. And the phone remains a method of communication to this day for helplines all over the world.

Over the years though, as new technologies grew in popularity and availability, people increasingly turn to channels like chatting, texting, or connecting with services through websites. And helplines need to embrace these new channels to stay relevant and reach more people. The flexibility in iCarol enables helplines to capture important information regardless of the type of contact — our Call Report Forms are used to collect data on interactions, whether they happen over the phone, online, via text, or even at in-person visits from mobile crisis teams or walk-in clinics. But some of the verbiage inside iCarol still centers around calls as a primary service, like the main Calls page, Call reports, and Caller Profiles.

We know that many helplines have expanded services beyond the phone, and that iCarol plays an important role in your documentation of all channels. For that reason, we are considering a name change for the “Calls” section of iCarol to better describe what you do and how you use these features. Please take 2 minutes to give your input about this by taking a brief survey.

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North Carolina 2-1-1 weathers the storm, helps those left in Matthew’s wake

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In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, many states in the southeastern United States faced destructive damage including massive flooding.

Here’s the latest from our friends at 2-1-1 in North Carolina:

    NC 2-1-1 Provides Resources to NC Residents Affected by Hurricane Matthew
    NC residents in all 100 NC counties can dial 2-1-1 from any phone 24/7 for resources

    Raleigh, NC – NC Emergency Management has asked NC residents affected by Hurricane Matthew or those wishing to help with disaster relief to dial 2-1-1 for storm related resources. Residents in all 100 counties can dial 2-1-1 from any phone to reach a trained call specialist who can help them find shelters, and learn about evacuation routes, find help with storm clean-up, locate food, water and ice, learn more about volunteer needs and more. The service is available 24/7 in any language and callers will always be connected to a live call specialist trained to assist during disasters.

    NC 2-1-1 call specialists are in contact with emergency management personnel and have the most up-to-date information on storm related resources, both during the storm and after. Call specialists can provide evacuation and shelter information, help people find food, water and ice distribution points and storm clean-up information and help, and help people find storm related clean-up help. Call specialists also have information about volunteer and donation needs and can provide that information to callers wishing to help those affected by the storm. NC residents should dial 2-1-1 or 888-892-1162.

    In addition to disaster related calls, NC 2-1-1 can help NC citizens find resources for other health and human service needs, such as food, housing, assistance with utilities, job training, information about health care providers, and more year round. All calls are confidential and the service is offered at no cost to North Carolina residents.

    NC 2-1-1 is provided to residents in all 100 North Carolina counties by United Way. The service is free, confidential, and available 24/7/365 in any language.

NC 2-1-1 staff shared with us that amidst the challenges of the situation, their service is standing out and being recognized by leadership throughout the state for their availability and outstanding service to their community. The system has proven itself to be a great tool to help citizens in need, and the people reaching them are feeling comforted, and pleasantly surprised, when they reach a live person.

We received a nice note from them in the aftermath of the storm:

    “iCarol has served us incredibly well and I am so pleased with how easily I can pull the statistics I need. A big thank you to Mary for helping me pull those saved chart templates together Friday afternoon. The leadership at emergency management has been so impressed with the kind of information we can provide to them with just a few key strokes.” – Heather, NC 2-1-1 Statewide Strategy Director

We’re honored to be NC 2-1-1′s choice of software providers and we’re glad that iCarol has been an instrument to help them help people and produce important data for emergency management personnel, while reducing stress on their staff. Our thoughts continue to be with them and with all the people in the southeast US affected by Hurricane Matthew.

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iCarol team at the TAIRS conference


Next week, members of the iCarol team will head to the Texas AIRS (TAIRS) conference in Lubbock, Texas.

You may recall we announced last year that we were chosen to be the software provider for the Texas Information and Referral Network’s 2-1-1 program. Since that time we’ve enjoyed working with the service providers in Texas and remain proud and honored to have been selected by them. When considering the systems using iCarol prior to 2015, then with the addition of Texas last year, followed by several more networks in the year since welcoming Texas, approximately 42% of all 2-1-1 systems in North America now use iCarol.

It’s important to us that we connect with these service providers at events when possible and so we’re excited to be sending our team members Polly and Diana to represent us in Lubbock next week. We’ll be on hand to answer questions, meet and greet members of the Texas area information centers, and take part in sessions and conversations that help us better understand the needs of these centers so we can continue to provide the best service possible.

You can find out more about the conference here or download their mobile app. Be sure to follow us on Twitter to follow along with our activities at the conference.

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“The Listeners” and local helpline draw media coverage in Maryland

Listeners Still 9

Last week we shared information with you about “The Listeners,” a new documentary film that goes inside the work of suicide prevention helplines and the listeners who work there.

My hometown is one of the locations hosting a screening in the coming weeks, and my local paper published this article about the upcoming screening, the film itself, and the work of the local helpline (where I used to work!) which is a program of the Mental Health Association of Frederick County in Maryland. In fact, this showing is at capacity, having sold out all available tickets.

The article provides information about the services of the helpline in Frederick, Maryland and highlights the tough but valuable work they do. The publication also interviewed Robert Hurst, the director of the film, and he shares his thoughts on the work of the service where he filmed the documentary. He even participated in the volunteer training so he could get a first-hand feeling of what the volunteers go through, and he shares his feelings and experiences on that process.

A final thing to note about the newspaper article is that the author identifies herself as a suicide attempt survivor with lived experience, and shares her thoughts and comments on helpline services. She had valuable insight to provide that is not only interesting and adds a unique and important perspective to the topic, but may be worth sharing with the listeners at your own helpline.

The screening and local media attend around will undoubtedly lead to increased awareness of the hotline’s services, and integrated fundraising both at the screening and online associated with it, will likely lead to a donation boost as well. I’m excited to attend our local screening of “The Listeners” tomorrow and I’ll be sure to share my thoughts after.

UPDATE: The film was awesome and very well-received by the sold out audience of community supporters, mental health advocates, and helpline staff and volunteers. I can’t wait to share my thoughts — stay tuned!

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Discounts for NASCOD/CUSA conference are ending soon – Register Now!

iCarol Webinars

Join iCarol at the National Crisis Center Conference in Arizona on October 20th: “Inspiring Hope” – presented by NASCOD and CONTACT USA. Attendance is essential for crisis organization managers and invaluable for all who work in crisis organizations and call centers. This conference is all about sharing knowledge and camaraderie; you are not alone!

NASCOD CUSA 2016 crisis helpline Conference

Please come and check out the amazing and definitely hope-inspiring presentation and workshop line-up they have in store for you this year by visiting http://www.nascod.org/conference/

But you must act quickly! Hotel conference discounts end after September 27th and conference registration closes October 7th.

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iCarol Presents: Using Data Repositories to Build Partnerships and Explore New Revenue Streams

Webinars w gray

You invest a lot of time collecting and then maintaining your database of community referrals so that you can connect your clients with the resources that can help them. But did you know that other organizations like hospitals, government agencies, corporations, and others have uses for that data, and are interested in partnering with you to access it?

Join us on Tuesday October 4th at 2pm EST for a webinar presented by iCarol Co-founder and CTO Neil McKechnie, to learn more about iCarol’s vision for creating data repositories that will help you build partnerships, open up new sources of funding, and most important of all, help more people.

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The Listeners: A documentary about crisis helplines

Listeners Still 9

The Listeners” is a new documentary that follows a group of new volunteers as they go through the challenging and vigorous process of training to take calls at Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence, Kansas. Check out the trailer below.

If you’re wondering where you can see the film, click here to see if there’s a screening already scheduled in your area. No screening nearby? No worries — it’s super easy to host a screening at your local theater or organize a showing at a campus or community center.

The film has been endorsed by the Lifeline, and hosting a screening locally provides a great opportunity for raising awareness of your helpline and fundraising, too.

I’ll be going to my local screening in Maryland on October 4th and Christa is going to her local screening in Baton Rouge later in October. We’ll be sure to post our thoughts and reviews — in the meantime go to The Listeners website to learn more about the film, and how to host a screening near you.

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New data available from SAMHSA

Bar Chart

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently released statistical findings in several research areas:

    Nearly 10 Million Adults Had Serious Thoughts of Suicide

    A new SAMHSA report reveals that in 2015, 4 percent of American adults aged 18 and older thought seriously about suicide during the past 12 months. Read more…

    Report Highlights Statistics on Patients With Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits Involving Suicide Attempts Who Left Against Medical Advice

    According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, emergency department (ED) visits involving drug-related suicide attempts increased 41 percent from 2004 to 2011, from an estimated 161,586 visits to 228,366 visits. Patients who left the ED before their treatment was completed may have missed a critical opportunity to receive medical follow-up. Read more…

    Prescription Drug Use and Misuse in the United States: Results From the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

    This report shows that among people aged 12 and older, 6.4 million people currently (in the past month) misuse psychotherapeutic medications. Read more…

    National Estimates of Marijuana Use and Related Indicators – National Survey on Drug Use and Health, United States, 2002–2014

    The surveillance report from SAMHSA and CDC finds that there has been a significant rise in the current use (past month) of marijuana among people aged 12 and older—from 6.2 percent in 2002 to 8.4 percent in 2014 (an increase of 35 percent). Read more…

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