DDS Case Managers dig deeper to help individuals with developmental disabilities thrive
L.R. Knost, author of “The Gentle Parent,” wrote “All behavior is communication. A few minutes of listening, observing and understanding can save hours of miscommunication, frustration and conflict. A need met is a problem solved.”
The empathetic case managers of Developmental Disabilities Services (DDS) are dedicated to giving a voice to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. In the stories below, we learn how listening, observing and understanding not only solves problems, but also provides HOPE during challenging times.
Kimberly Swanson has worked for OKDHS for 22 years in various programs including Adult and Family Services (AFS), Adult Protective Services (APS) and, for the last six years, DDS, where she serves as a Case Manager in Area 3. Over the years, she has become a consistent and attentive point of contact for individuals on her caseload, and her customers often reach out just to touch base.
One particular individual with whom Swanson has frequent contact lives on his own and relies on her to help him navigate services. Since she hasn’t been able to visit him in person recently due to the pandemic, Swanson has kept an open line of communication with him, including frequent calls throughout the day. Sometimes this customer calls to vent, and other times he just wants to joke around with Swanson. But, no matter her schedule or circumstances, Swanson always takes the time to listen and provide the support he needs. Recently, he decided he wanted to work at Chili’s. With the support of Swanson and others on his team, he was able to get a job sweeping and cleaning tables.
“Kimberly has always made herself available just to lend an ear if that’s what is needed,” said Kelli Perryman, DDS Area 3 Field Manager. “We admire Kimberly’s willingness to take on whatever comes her way. She not only advocates for the individuals we serve, but for our provider agencies as well.”
Swanson also recently took over cases serving youth in independent living homes and quickly got to work coordinating services and meetings. Her colleagues say Swanson is enthusiastic, has a contagious smile and, shares their true passion to serve.
“I love when my individuals feel comfortable enough to call to vent and work through issues or to celebrate their success,” said Swanson. “Everyone needs an ear to bend from time to time and I am honored to be that for my clients.”
A few years ago, Area 2 Case Manager Paula Mantooth, or Ms. Paula as she is known by her customers, inherited the case of a woman who lived in a small town with very limited resources. Despite numerous obstacles along the way, Ms. Paula continued to meet with her customer’s family and providers to create a plan ensuring her customer would be happy, healthy and safe as she adapted to a new living environment. The long days for the team meant a shorter wait for services, and the customer was able to receive weekly physical therapy, occupational therapy and horseback riding among other services intended to help her live a happy and productive life.
“Paula handles difficult situations with such poise and grace,” said Jeannetta Elliott, DDS Area 2 Field Manager. “I believe that because of her guidance and support, the clients she serve are able to successfully develop and accomplish their goals. Her humor and lovely English accent makes it a pleasure to work with her. Her devotion reminds us that there is light and hope at the end of the tunnel.”
“I absolutely love the work we do,” said Ms. Paula. “I am so very blessed to have an open invitation to people’s homes. I value being a guest in their homes and appreciate the invitation to participate in their life journeys. Additionally, I am supported by colleagues and all the people on their teams who work with me to make sure everyone’s wants and needs are met.”
Recently, Kristin Lanham, DDS Area I Case Manager, was assigned a home with three young men who receive Daily Living Supports (DLS) and who have a history of challenging behaviors. Very quickly after receiving the case, Lanham began to understand that the young men could benefit from behavioral supports and counseling services. However, despite her efforts and those of her Positive Supports Field Specialist to get the services in place, only two of the three roommates showed improvement.
Lanham was determined to find an answer as to why the third young man was still struggling, so she looked for clues or any medical reasons that could be causing his frustration. Medical factors were quickly ruled out, but the explosive episodes continued.
Lanham requested approval to visit the young man in person so she would be able to communicate with him through sign language. She explained how difficult it was for the two of them to sign over a screen, because sign language incorporates the whole body. Once she was able to communicate face-to-face, she learned the young man was angry with one of his roommates and the living situation needed to change quickly. She also learned he was lonely and frustrated because he could not understand what others were asking of him and didn’t believe they could understand him either. All the while, behavioral problems escalated to the point that his guardian requested a much more restrictive placement.
Understanding that communication seemed to be the greatest struggle for this young man, Lanham encouraged the team to incorporate a communication plan that included the staff learning sign language. To ensure timely progress, she has been volunteering her time each week to travel to the home and teach the staff sign language. Lanham always includes the young man in these lessons and has him assist with instructions and to help the staff practice. Since implementing this communication improvement plan, there have been no behavioral episodes. In fact, the young man has expressed excitement and pride that he is contributing to their lessons and staff look forward to learning new signs each week.
“Kristin can always be counted on to think outside of the box and go above and beyond what is required for the individuals we serve,” said Trasy Barnett, DDS Area 1 Program Manager. “By selflessly volunteering her time, Kristin has helped restore hope to this individual’s life.”
With renewed self-confidence and a stronger ability to communicate, this young man was also able to acquire competitive integrated employment at a job he really loves and that pays well.
“One of the greatest joys in my life is to work in the service of others,” said Lanham. “This position allows me to use all of my knowledge, wisdom, and heart to help others find their moments of joy, fading discreetly into the background so they can shine.”
“Every day, our staff work tirelessly to empower and support Oklahomans with developmental disabilities and their families,” said Beth Scrutchins, DDS Director. “Our case managers take the time to understand each individual’s needs and create plans that leverage their strengths, and I am incredibly proud of the HOPE and dignity this offers for our customers.”
Do you have a HOPE Hero story you would like to share? Email it to email@example.com.