Friends and family members have an important role to play in supporting their loved one as their abilities change. They are most familiar with the person – their likes and dislikes, their personal history, their preferred communication style and their abilities, and can help both them and the facilitators in supporting participation.
One of the first and most comforting ways they can support their friend or loved one is through their presence. They offer a familiar face and voice. They provide comfort and a sense of safety to help reassure the participant in an unfamiliar environment. They are there to navigate through physical locations and processes that might be intimidating alone.
One of our main goals is social connection. We have seen the power of experiences shared between loved ones, between participants, and amongst the friends and family members themselves. As we connect with each member of the group, we are helping them to share the experience, and so we include the care partners when asking questions, sharing hands-on work and in the general conversation throughout each session. They are a valued and included member of the larger group. For virtual programs we even include care partners from different addresses to join from their own homes and participate together. Where geography and access are no longer an issue, distant relationships can flourish.
That being said, including everyone takes time. It is more voices, more ideas, and more waiting for a turn to share for everyone. To be a good facilitator, you have to keep track of who is speaking, and who is waiting to ensure sustained engagement. It is a balancing act throughout each session. It is important to keep in mind the role of friends and loved ones during the program.
This is where group size can affect the degree to which friends and family are called upon and included. Bearing in mind that we aim to include everyone in a program, if time and group size require it, we prioritize our facilitation for the participants to ensure that their voices are heard, that they have the time and support to contribute and that their needs are met first. We call on the participant first, we call on them more often, and we focus our instructions on them. If we feel that a care partner is taking over the conversation, we gently redirect the focus by asking the participant to share their thoughts about the conversation. The larger your group, and the more friends and family members you have in a group, the more they have to sit back and allow the participant to shine.