This year The Shafer Center is proud to announce the introduction of a new program to be offered to our families, Group Action Planning or GAP Groups. The purpose of the GAP Group is to bring together a cohesive group environment to support not only the individual but also the family. GAP Groups encourage group creativity and brainstorming opportunities to benefit our family member’s quality of life and independence.

Parents can easily become overwhelmed by the idea that they have to plan, initiate, and implement numerous supports and activities alone. By forming GAP groups, a diversity of members from across all environments can join in sharing the responsibility while creating a strong sense of support that includes everyone’s needs. Specifically, GAP groups have four fundamental characteristics: create content for social connectedness and independent caring, engage in dynamic and creative problem solving, foster the self-determination of the individual with a disability, and adhere to the family-centered principles of support. By focusing on these characteristics a GAP group is able to facilitate an interconnected plan that encompasses multiple aspects of an individual’s life, beyond immediate hurdles such as academic or behavioral.

When a GAP group meets, each member is inviting support from the rest of the team; creating connections, envisioning great expectations, problem solving, and celebrating success all bring members together to form a stable net of support. These components allow for the common interest of each participant to lead the group, ensuring the family-centered approach.

GAP groups are effective for family members of all ages. For younger children the GAP process can be as simple as focusing on expanding the family support net or as complex as preparing to transition into school. For our older family members the GAP group approach can be helpful in a multitude of life situations, for example transitioning out of school and into adulthood or for a family member that may have already made the transition into adulthood, a GAP group could be helpful in building a career and independence. The transition into adulthood can be scary, but with help of a GAP Group you can build a safety net to support a successful transition. The goals set in a GAP meeting may start small but as the process continues, it develops and grows along with the family member, adhering to the needs specific to them at that point in their life.

Aspects such as inviting support, solving problems and celebrating success are just a few of the characteristics of Group Action Planning that make this such a unique and successful approach. By inviting support you are selecting those you wish to be involved in your families GAP process, giving you control of whose involved in your family member’s process. Inviting support also allows for the group to be ever changing and evolving as the process evolves and specific goals change. Using the group approach, solving problems becomes a brainstorming of possibilities and creativity and with the changing of group members comes new and fresh ideas! And finally, the component that really makes the GAP Group process unique is celebrating success. The Gap Group meetings are supposed to be an uplifting meeting where group members can celebrate the successes of each others accomplishments, as everyone contributes to the group. The GAP process is intended to be one of support, celebration and success; utilizing the group approach develops the feeling of unity and helps to build the support net for an individual to lead a successful and independent lifestyle.

By Caroline Levy and Michelle Fox

Turnbull, A. P., & Turbiville V., & Schaffer R., & Schaffer, V. (1996). Getting a Shot at Life through Group Action Planning. Zero to three, June/July.

For more information please contact The Shafer Center at 410-517-1113 or [email protected]