Coaching Through Transition: Part I: Getting Started


Central Park -- Gina Lynette

I love to coach. As I shared in my values post, I get practically giddy at the thought of nurturing and guiding folks safely and smoothly through change — transitions and transformations.

Over the course of the next several Tuesdays, I’ll share one area of my practice that thrills me more than just about anything — coaching individuals with disabilities and their families as they transition from one life stage to another. Please note that while I’ll be describing a coaching scenario that is very similar to several families that I’ve worked with, it is an amalgamation of those conversations and is not based on any one family.

Coaching, by its very nature, is a highly individualized process involving the establishment of trust, the co-creation of goals, and ongoing support throughout the relationship. It is important when working with individuals and teams — but it is never more critical than when working with a family. Trust, co-creation, and support become trickier as we add individuals to the table, but I’ve spent my entire adult life gathering tools and skills that support individuals in assessing their current reality, establishing goals – both stretch and very realistic in nature – and enrolling their community in support of those objectives.

The Scenario

In this scenario, a family is interested in figuring out the process of transitioning their son from high school to a really, real adult life as part of his community. The son, Jon, expects to graduate at age 22 with the current class of juniors. He has been diagnosed with an intellectual disability and is receiving special education services at his local high school.

His parents are divorced but civil. His father, Dan, expects him to get a job and live on his own or with a couple of roommates. His mother, Kate, does not see him ever leaving home – there are way too many things that can go wrong. Jon’s circle of support includes extended family, classmates, several favorite teachers, people at church, and family friends.

The state where they live currently has a waiting list of about 8000 people with intellectual disabilities hoping for services and supports. With recent budget cuts, only the most urgent needs are addressed by the state system when enrolling new individuals into services. Having two living parents puts Jon near the bottom of the list of people waiting.

The parents of a classmate at school are working with me to do similar planning for their daughter. They shared my name with Kate while attending a transition workshop offered by the state’s Parent Training Institute. Kate called to find out whether I could help them figure out what their son will do after high school.

Establishing the Coaching Relationship

As Kate was referred to me by another family who is in a similar situation and who found the coaching process helpful, I’m already at somewhat of an advantage over a coach who is called from an advertisement. Kate, Jon, and Dan already have some idea of what I’m able to do, although they may not have a clear understanding of my overall role in Jon’s transition.

Even so, the first order of business is to establish trust while outlining what coaching can and cannot do for this family.

A partnership requires that coaches earn the trust of people they work with, so that can provide the right amounts of challenge and support throughout the process. — David B. Peterson

I rely heavily on a humanistic approach as a foundation of my practice and incorporate other tools and theories when needed. Walking this family through the transition planning necessary to move Jon from high school into an interdependent adult life, while paying attention to his hopes and fears and those of his parents, and helping them to build a strong circle of support will necessarily direct some of the content and most of the goals of the coaching relationship. How I guide them through this is steeped in my values, my training, and my solid belief that everyone deserves to be happy and included.

Because they do.

In Part II, I’ll share more about my role in working with Jon, Kate and Dan. I’ll also talk some about what it means to be “humanistic” in coaching… and I’ll hint a bit at how we’re going to get everyone on the same page and pointing forward.


For folks who like to know more, here are the references from this post:

Brouwer, P. J. (1964). The power to see ourselves. Harvard Business Review, 42(6), 156-165.

Helen Sanderson and Associates. (2007). Person centred thinking. Liberty, Missouri: HSA, USA.

Pearpoint, J., O’Brien, J., & Forest, M.  (1993). PATH: Planning possible positive futures. Inclusion Press:  Toronto.

Peterson, D. (1996). Executive coaching at work: The art of one-on-one change. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 48(2), 78-86.

Stober, D. R. & Grant, A. M. (eds.) (2006). Evidence based coaching handbook: Putting the best practices to work for your clients. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

The R-Word: Beyond Political Correctness

Be a fan of Respect -- Pledge to Ban the R Word

Justin is a bright, funny, creative 10-year-old boy. He loves science and reading. He builds rockets, watches movies and spends hours playing with his dogs, Rascal and Champ. He had a part in his 4th grade play, was on the winning team in his community softball league, and has traveled to Washington, DC to meet with legislators.

In addition, Justin has an intellectual disability. He also has a massive pet peeve: he hates being called “retarded.”

It turns out that Justin’s not alone in wishing that people would pay more attention to the things that he does well, rather than to his diagnosis. Folks with a variety of disabilities are speaking up and asking us to think before we speak or write about them.

In a world where a diagnostic label can easily become a playground taunt or a laugh-grabber in a movie—how often do you hear the R-word said as an endearment?—people who are assigned these labels are stigmatized, ridiculed, or worse, seen as easy targets for abuse. Throughout history, words like retard, idiot, spaz/spastic, and moron—all originally diagnostic labels—have been adopted as insults. Yes, we often use them without thinking, but we can do better.

Some folks may argue that changing the language we use when we speak or write about people with disabilities is futile—that whatever we call people will become the new insult—or purely an exercise in political correctness. The points are well taken, but misguided. Those same folks would be hesitant to say the N-word out loud in a room-full of people. It isn’t about political correctness. It’s about respect, eliminating words that humiliate and ostracize whole groups of people, and shifting the cultural dialogue about disability from one of pity, fear and shame to one of inclusion.

Known as, “People First Language” the guidelines for respecting the dignity of folks with disabilities are pretty straight-forward.

First, we only refer to a diagnosis or a disability if it is relevant and critical that we do so.

Second, when we do need to talk about the diagnosis, we try to be respectful of the person, and we refer to the person first. So we would say, “man with a disability, student with a learning disability or person with an intellectual disability” rather than, “disabled man, LD student or retard.”

Let’s work together to remove diagnostic labels from our joke and insult vocabulary. It’s going to take practice to break the habit of reaching for those words, but if we gently remind one another when it happens, we’ll quickly eliminate them.

As Kathie Snow so eloquently says, “They are people: moms and dads; sons and daughters; employees and employers; friends and neighbors; students and teachers; scientists, reporters, doctors, actors, presidents, and more. People with disabilities are people, first.”

Justin sums it up perfectly when he says, “Call me Justin. That’s my name!”

This article originally appeared in Hope and Dream Magazine.
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