Training Your Personal Assistant

Scene from The Intouchables. Photo courtesy The Weinstein Company.

Finding the right personal assistant can be a daunting task. Will they be sensitive to your daily needs? Will your personalities mesh? Following these general guidelines will help in making the best choice.

In the movie The Intouchables, a wealthy quadriplegic hires a most unlikely young man from the projects to be his caretaker. While the bond between Philippe and Dris develop into a life-long friendship, your needs and expectations should be considered carefully.

After you have hired your personal assistants, it is important to train them for the job they will be doing for you. Find out what instruction, if any, they have had and then plan what additional preparation they will need. Even if someone already can perform a task, you may have developed your own methods and preferences about how it should be done.

As an “employer” of a personal assistant, you now take on the role of supervisor. This does not mean you control what the personal assistant does but that you show him or her what to do for you. The training is accomplished by both of you working together in a professional and friendly manner.

At the beginning of employment, develop checklists of the tasks that must be performed, based on your needs. This will help avoid conflicts about the assistant’s duties and help ensure you receive the care you need.

Follow these general guidelines:

• Be brief. Make the steps as short as possible.
• Put steps in the correct order. Make sure to specify those that are essential or often neglected.
• Include what, when, where. State what materials are needed and when and where the task will be performed.
• Avoid how. Much of the “how to” should be taught while the task is being performed.

Arrange the checklists in chronological order. For example, first list the morning routine of bowel and bladder care, bathing, and dressing. You could also arrange the checklists by daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. The checklists become a clear and complete job description.

In some cases, personal assistants may need specialized training, such as CPR, first aid, bowel and bladder routine, or skin care. They may need to learn about the nature of your disability and be prepared for crises that may result, such as autonomic dysreflexia (AD) after a spinal-cord injury.

It is also important to tell personal assistants about the medications you are taking and the side effects any of them may have. They must know how to handle such situations.

An initial training period during which a new assistant can observe and learn from your current assistant is invaluable. Don’t try to teach everything in one session!

Excerpted from Managing Personal Assistants, a Consumer Guide. Copyright © Paralyzed Veterans of America 2000.


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