Residential immersive life skills programs for youth with disabilities: service providers’ perceptions of experiential benefits and key program features
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PURPOSE: The objective was to determine service providers' perceptions of the experiential benefits of residential immersive life skills (RILS) programs for youth with disabilities, along with important program features. METHODS: Thirty-seven service providers from three RILS programs took part in qualitative interviews. Themes were derived using a phenomenological approach. RESULTS: There were perceived benefits for youth, and also for parents and service providers. Study themes concerned the process of youth empowerment, life-changing experiences for youth and parents, and changed service provider views affecting practice. Youth changes were attributed to the residential group format and afforded opportunities, which included being away from home, navigating public transportation, directing attendant services, and sharing intense learning and social experiences with peers. Youth were seen to experience important personal changes in life skills, self-confidence, self-understandings, and self-advocacy. Perceived benefits for parents included realizations concerning their child's abilities and new hope for the future. Service providers indicated changes in their knowledge, perspectives, and approach to practice. CONCLUSIONS: The findings suggest that life skills programs should be intentionally designed to provide challenging experiential opportunities that motivate youth to engage in new life directions by providing new insights, self-realizations, and positive yet realistic views of the future. IMPLICATIONS FOR REHABILITATION: Service providers indicated the importance of challenging, real-world experiential opportunities that provide youth with disabilities with new insights, self-realizations, and positive yet realistic views of the future. Important experiential opportunities for youth included being away from home, navigating public transportation, directing attendant care, and sharing intense learning and social experiences with peers. The findings provide preliminary qualitative evidence that life skills programs should be intentionally designed to provide experiential opportunities that equip youth with knowledge, skills, and confidence, and motivate them to engage in new life directions. Service providers indicated important changes to their practice as a result of their involvement in a RILS program, including adopting a more holistic and facilitative approach to practice.
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