Frontline Initiative: DSPs Using the NADSP Code of Ethics

How About Those Brownies?


Jake Stevens as a DSP and NADSP -Badge earner at Benco, Corvallis, Oregon. Jake can be reached at:

A man in a grayish-blue t-shirt sits in the shade outside of a house. He is wearing a medal with a red ribbon around his neck, and he is grinning at the camera.

Ben sits contentedly outside in the shade.

Food is a large part of the human experience. Some of my fondest memories surround food-centric activities, such as holiday meals, late-night food runs with friends, or even sentimental memories of cooking with my mom when I was a kid. Food is important.

The people we support share our reverence for food. Ben, a person I support, loves an outing he dubs “snacking.” He goes to the local mini-mart gas station and makes a selection from aisles of perfectly snackable junk food. Snacking is important to him. It provides him with a very positive interaction with people in public. Ben says the mini-mart workers are all very kind and nice to him. He told me, “They are really funny. They all know my name.” After he has interacted with them, he gets to enjoy a fun snack.

Over time, the snack proportions grew from a small drink (sometimes water) to a large fountain soda, plus a large slice of cake or brownie.

As the portions grew, so did Ben. Ben’s doctor had some concerns about his weight gain and inquired about his eating habits. Ben told him all about snacking and his doctor was rightfully concerned. The doctor asked Ben to allow his staff to assist him with a new diet that focused on portion control, sugar-free drinks, and an occasional slice of cake but mostly focusing on healthier snacks. In the moment, he agreed to this, but when it came time to put it into practice, Ben had other thoughts.

This became a daily power struggle. Ben had grown accustomed to his daily large drink and high-calorie, high-sugar snack and was not going to give it up. Ben and his Independent Service Plan team put their heads together to figure out how to curb the cravings and cut down on the amount of sugar and calories he consumed. After some thought and input from Ben, we all agreed that the best way forward was through making the healthiest choices he could make that day. He focuses on making a good choice today and doesn’t worry about tomorrow. This shift in mindset really helped him. Sure, sometimes he would have a large soda and a slice of cake, but more often than not he would choose an unsweetened tea and a piece of fruit. Changing the focus away from, “Remember what your doctor said, no more sugar!” to “How about today we get tea? We can get the cake tomorrow!” really helped him. When asked about how he feels about choosing fruit over a brownie, he said he enjoys fruit and then pauses to say, “But how about those brownies!” and laughs. He agrees that if he wants a brownie, then walking to the store becomes a good choice. He slaps his belly and says, “ Wowza, we gotta keep this thing down!” The only thing Ben likes more than a brownie is to crack a joke.

When push comes to shove, Ben gets what he opts to get. He is an adult capable of making choices to direct his life. We are merely guides to help offer him healthier choices. Encouraging healthy living and respecting personal choices do not need to conflict. There are several ways Ben can have his cake and eat it, too. We just do the best we can each day, and eventually, with enough “best choices,” we form positive habits that slowly improve his life. If he gets a piece of cake, it is not the end of the world . To compensate for eating the cake, he can take walks around the park, ride bikes, or shoot hoops. There are ways where we can enjoy everything, respect personal choice, and encourage healthier practices. Now when Ben asks for a snack, he will say what he wants: “Today I want a brownie.” I tell him, “Put on your walking shoes!” and we take off for the store together, making the best choice he can in the moment.

Our job is not to dictate, but rather offer guidance when needed and know that even if your help was not received, the day was not a failure.

As DSPs, each time we go to work, we should have one goal: Do the best we can that day and then move on. The people we support have their own agenda and ideas about how they live their lives. Our job is not to dictate, but rather offer guidance when needed and know that even if your help was not received, the day was not a failure. Every day we are given the opportunity to do the “most good” we can. But sometimes the “most good” that can be done is finding alternatives to counteract the impact of unhealthy food choices so that we can slow down, enjoy our cake, and not suffer long-term consequences.

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