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3 Reasons Why Day Programs are NOT Effective For Adults with Disabilities

February 24, 2023

Learn why Day Programs for adults with disabilities are not as effective for your loved one as they are advertised.

Here are three (3) reasons why Day Programs are NOT Effective:

1. Lack of Inclusion: Grouping individuals with developmental disabilities together separates them from ordinary community interactions – even if out in the ordinary community.

2. Ineffectiveness in Teaching Life Skills: The inefficiency in teaching life skills within day programs is rooted in the pretend environment they provide. This creates a significant hurdle in transferring acquired skills to practical, real-life situations at home.

3. Challenges in Forming Meaningful Friendships: Forming meaningful friendships becomes a challenge as individuals with disabilities are consistently grouped together, with others also trying to learn or improve their social skills. The best way to learn social skills is be being in relationship with other people who already have strong social skills.

As an alternative to day programs, I suggest encouraging your loved one to pursue their childhood dreams – or in other words the things that they are interested in ordinary community settings.

Interested in learning more about this? Click the video below, where I go deeper on this topic. Watch now or read the transcript below for more details.

P.S. Want to discover how to help your loved one have more ‘ordinary’ and enriching activities in their day?

I’ve got an upcoming Life Plan Workshop where I will show you how.

Workshop registration is not open yet, but you can join the waitlist here and guarantee your spot when it does open.

Join Life Plan Workshop Waitlist


Written Transcript of the Video:

Hey there, Eric Goll here from Empowering Ability, and I have a question for you today: What was your childhood dream? It could have been a doctor, a teacher, a professional sports player—whatever it was for you. I want you to think about that. Great! Now you’ve got that image in your mind of what your childhood dream was. But no one has ever had a childhood dream of going to a day program every day and doing activities in a pretend environment amongst other people with developmental disabilities that are being othered and separated from the rest of society. No one has had that as a childhood dream. So, this is the dominant option, the most prevalent option that’s presented to families that have a loved one with a developmental disability—often the only option. And is that right when we put it in the context of our own childhood dreams and what we think about what would be possible for our lives? Why don’t we do that sort of thinking for our loved one with a developmental disability as well? Use that awesome ordinary life lens to expand the possibilities of what could be possible for our loved one, instead of just thinking about, “Well, you know, they have a disability, a day program is the only option for them after high school.”

So, I want to help you expand those possibilities beyond a day program, and I want to share why a day program is not best for people with developmental disabilities, no matter how that day program is being marketed. Okay, now before I get into that, I just want to preface the rest of this video. I have no judgment on a family or on you if your loved one is currently going to a day program. Day programs are marketed to families that have a loved one with a developmental disability as kind of the only option many times. Okay, but what I want, if your loved one is in a day program, is for you to start thinking about how could we take a little bit of the resources and time from that day program and invest that time and that money into what would be better. Okay, so we’re going to talk about that. I’ll talk about that in a minute here, a little bit later in this video. So, let’s talk about what the problem is with day programs.

The first thing is that day programs separate people with developmental disabilities from the rest of society and group them together in a place, in a pretend environment. Right? So often, day programs are marketing inclusion. They’re marketing learning life skills. They’re giving an illusion that our loved one will make friends. And none of this is true. None of it is true. Let me go through each one.

Inclusion—how can you have inclusion in a place where it’s designed just for people with developmental disabilities and they’re being grouped together? That is, by nature, separating people from the ordinary places doing ordinary things in our communities. Okay, so you can’t have inclusion when people with disabilities are grouped together. Even if we’re grouping two or three people with developmental disabilities together, it becomes very hard for those people to interact with other people in ordinary community places.

Let’s talk about life skills. Can you actually learn life skills in a day program? Well, first off, it’s a pretend environment. Let’s take an example of something like cooking. Even if you’re cooking a legit meal in that day program and somebody’s guiding you to do that, you’re probably not getting one-on-one support to do it. The other main challenge here is that, is that going to be transferable? Because where we need to be learning life skills is where we’re actually going to be doing the life skill, so in our home. Right? So, it could be making lunch. Well, we need to look at what are our family dynamics first because if we’re not getting the opportunity or the right level of support and encouragement to make our own lunch in our own home, where it’s never going to happen. So often what I’m seeing is, you know, what’s being learned in those pretend environments in a day program is not translating into building actual capability in a person’s life because where that needs to be learned is at home with one-on-one support. So, we need those real situations to actually learn.

And then, friendships. Right? This idea that, okay, we’re going to—you’re loved one’s going to make friendships at the day program. It doesn’t happen. Why doesn’t it happen? Because, again, people with disabilities are being grouped together, and often those people haven’t had the opportunity to interact with other people that have strong social skills. And we learn social skills—we learn how to make friends and be in a relationship with people through people who have good social skills because then we can mirror those social skills. Right? And when that other person has good social skills, it helps us to enter into a relationship with them. So, we’re grouping together people that are all trying to learn social skills, trying to develop their own social skills. So what happens most often? People with disabilities are drawn to the staff that work there who are neurotypical and try to build relationships with them. And that’s a whole other problem because if those staff are acting as friends and aren’t actually friends, then that’s very misleading and it can actually be very harmful and cause trauma towards a person with a disability because somebody is acting like their friend and isn’t actually their friend. So, there’s a whole bunch of stuff there. I’ll create another video on maybe paid supporters acting like friends in another video, but I just want to help you understand that day programs are not going to be delivering what they promise. And it actually excludes your loved one from community, from real opportunity, from pursuing their actual interests, right? Pursuing those childhood dreams because no one has a childhood dream of going to a day program.

So, what’s better? What’s better is actually pursuing your childhood dreams. What does that mean in kind of more ordinary terms? It means exploring your interests in ordinary places. It means maybe exploring what paid work could look like, right, in an ordinary place. And to do these sorts of things, to explore your interests in ordinary places, to explore paid work, that often requires one-on-one support. Okay? And that support helping that person to explore their interest, helping that person to get that paid work. So, if you’re interested in exploring more on what’s better and maybe shifting some resources into what would be better if your loved one is going to a day program—I’m not saying stop the day program entirely, right? I never recommend pulling the rug out from someone’s routine, from someone’s life. But how can you, over time, shift some of those resources into the ordinary, into investing in your loved one’s interests in ordinary places, into investing into paid work?

So, if you’re interested in learning more about that, I’ve got a free upcoming workshop. I’ve got the link below this video, so you can go ahead and click on that link and register. It’s completely free. I also invite you to leave a comment below in the comment section. And I’m Eric Goll. Together, let’s take a small step forward this week.

If you found these strategies helpful, consider subscribing to my channel for more valuable resources. Additionally, for those seeking further guidance on fostering independence in their loved ones, check out my “7 Strategies for More Independence” PDF guide. I’m Eric Goll, and together, let’s take a small step forward toward an awesome, ordinary life.

  • So much what you say is true. Day programs are a big lie….. however of course there are clients that do benefit from it and if is needed for some

  • When children are asked ”What do you want to be when you grow up?” in elementary school and older students in high school are asked the question’s more mature versions like ”What career would you like after graduation?”, the answer will almost never be along the lines of ”I’d like to be a participant in a day program” or ”I want to flip burgers and fry at a fast food joint”. Yet if they’re neurologically disabled, those people often get told day programs or ”dead end” fast foodretail jobs are the only options and indeed, the current paradigm coupled with a lack of career support services means that often, these ARE essentially the only options! Heck, vocational rehabilitation agencies (especially government run ones) don’t exist to get people into good careers or help start businesses, they exist to funnel clients into dead end work!

  • Programs are pushed because “normal” people don’t believe learning is not a possibility. Also, the money these programs get is insane.
    Support coordinators have reacted negatively to my refusal to have Chris in a day program. They look at me like I have 2 heads when I tell them that I am teaching Chris to read, that he goes to kung fu, music lessons and dates with girlfriend.
    I hate the term “be with people like them”

  • NYS OPWDD, while not perfect, has a wide array of supports and services. I’m proud that the agency I work at offers a program without walls (PWW) and not a site-based program. The entire day is spent in the community, volunteering and learning life/work skills. We also offer Community Habilitation, where a person with ID/DD works one on one towards goals they have chosen as important to them whether at home or elsewhere. We also offer Supported Employment so a person with ID/DD gets the support they need at work. We also have Self-Direction which provides the person with ID/DD a budget equivalent to what the state would spend and determine what supports and services they want to receive. It also includes a housing subsidy for those wanting to live in an apartment.

    • They program where my son will be attending sounds much like yours. He had visited several times and refers to call the people as his friends. He lights up when he walls through the door!

    • OPWDD has sadden us, it has been an uphill battle getting an autism diagnosis for my son, he was 16years old when the rug completely slipped from under him, from then til 21years various doctors had differing diagnoses and guinea pigged him with that med and this med, the first night he went on Lorazepam he got so psychotic he thought zombies was invading the world, he took off trying to get to the hospital nearby as his safe place, he got into a car accident, 55mph car hit him. He survived. Finally all those doctors stopped their meds, began to really listen to the Autism learning partners report we had when he was 19years, a Psychologist report when he was 18years old…you know he’s 20years old now everyone thinks he’s Autistic, but he definitely has a medical something that is exacerbating his Autism symptoms…that and needing so much more time to get back to some place normal after the accident, he is 21yearsl old when we find put he has immune issues and infected by Lyme and co-infections, so a new set of doctors begin this antibiotic…that antibiotic…allergic, combination antibiotics…toxic load, with each time he ends up into the ER 3 or 4 times. Finally, standard care is disregarded and he is place on some alternative antimicrobial and such: andographis, methylene blue, resveratrol, slew of supplements, at 22years old he is finally stable like enough to finish the assessment he started 2years prior. But OPWDD denies him services because he did not get diagnosed by 21years old. He needs that 1-1support, he does so well with targeted support, and being absolutely poor I cannot provide all he needs and still work and all that. They take none of the struggles faced by this Autistic kid odmf mine, who is able to hold his own in certain situations…that kid has been doing his best all his life to fit in, he says…we learned this is called masking but we had to learn that from this Psychologist he was seeing, after 3years of 2x/month visits 1-1, 1.5hrs each time at $200 per session. This is not something covered by insurance, not the way this support is given. The group therapy or the pressured format of couch therapy did not help him, it even sent him into meltdowns a few times…we did not know what that was at the time, but discussing the topics and pressure during those times pinpointed the problem. Autism learning partner had that he needs receptive and expressive communication, and relationship skills deficiencies @$50/hr, 3-4hr per day for a minimum of 4days per week, for 1 year 1-1 support would be given. I cannot afford it, eventhough I got a separate MVP insurance for him so he could start this support, I ran into more problems with the ~$700/month premiums, the agency never had a chance to get into the house for even one session after 3months of paying that nice amount.
      Now, my son does have a diagnosis. Yes he’s had diffences all his life, he has been receiving intense support from us, his family since birth, which we didn’t think could be an issue or a developmental condition but when he began junior year in high school and started derailing, I ramped up the support, he did well in the remaining year of school, went straight into college, away from home…uh oh, nope…he couldn’t do it alone. My son tried so hard to make his dream of aerospace engineering a reality but without the extra support it is hard for him. We didn’t know he had a difference that could be such a deterrent to his goals, without proper support. Now we know it, we have experts saying he needs this support, still OPWDD deny him that support and service. I am working with him 1-1 on filling out his application for school, reviewing sample personal statements, making up a portfolio to supplement his application because he has been fighting so much and when he started to feel better he tried to work only to fall ill again, his personal drawing and writing have given him an outlet that kept him with me still, I think showing that potential to the school would be good. But I don’t really know what’s there I can use to provide him more support, and still I am underemployed and cannot afford the right amount of food and supplements for him. I wish OPWDD did not exist, honestly, because to me and my son they have not provided help even when countless of other experts have finally arrive at the conclusion that there is a difference, and that difference belongs in this ABorc class they still close their eyes and do not provide help they should to us.

      Marcy, can you tell me what program you work at that provide PWW, and does just Autism diagnosis suffice or do people need to be accepted by OPWDD to receive service and support from your program?
      Thanks for reading my rant. Stay well.

  • My 25 year old son goes to a day program once a week, and it is his absolute favourite day. A lot of people were upset when ARC Industries closed. Day programs could be improved but the government does not want to spend the money. Instead they hire people to convince the vulnerable that they should be in the workplace rather than receiving disability benefits. This may be possible for some people, but by no means all of the disabled. You say that paid carers are not real friends, but employers are not either. They are in business to make money. I am so tired of the bashing of day programs. And don’t even get me started on the Passport program. I’m sure government employees get most of the money that should just be given to the entitled recipients.

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