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Meeting the Challenge:
A Guide to Respectful, Effective Planning, Advocacy and Support with People who Have Puzzling Behaviour

by Susannah Joyce

Review by Sandra McClennen

Susannah Joyce learned from Herb Lovett, and her book reflects this. Written for families, friends and paid supports, it explores behavior through the varied aspects of our shared human needs and experience. It emphasizes understanding rather than controlling.

Joyce reminds us that we need to presume competence and that what we call “behavioural challenges” has a rational or biological reason. Anecdotes, often from her own experience, promote understanding of her approach.

She calls for a team approach. She encourages developing circles of support for people. She reminds us of how easy it is to be unintentionally cruel by not constantly comparing our actions to our values.

She addresses the language that we use – not just “person first” language, but the terms that drive me crazy – compliance, manipulation, mental age, high-functioning/low-functioning, and readiness – to name a few. There are more, and Joyce has included all that are on my list and a few that I have added to my list.

Those who read this review almost certainly believe in these values. Joyce’s checklists, questions, reminders give us tools to keep ourselves on track and to teach others. For example, she suggests using a biographical timeline to develop compassion for those whose lives have been chaotic, unloved and controlled by others. Reading some of the examples certainly sheds light on those people’s puzzling behaviors.

Joyce talks about the importance of communication and quotes, among others, Jenn Seybert, who has been a member of AutCom’s Board of Directors.

She quotes Dr. Ruth Ryan extensively, addressing identification of physical problems, pain, nutrition, and medication. People with a developmental disability can also have a mental health problem that needs to be identified and addressed. Joyce gives many examples of the value of counseling and therapy, both individual and group.

There is a chapter on trauma that is very inclusive of the types of trauma that might have been experienced by a person with “puzzling behavior.” There is a section on the experience of grief and grieving.

For every issue she brings up, Joyce makes helpful suggestions. I recommend this book for everyone who has a family member or a friend with a developmental disability and puzzling behavior and for all whose professions bring them into this group of people. Not only is it a good reminder for all of us, but it is an excellent book to share with others to help them understand our point of view.