How do we see the person?

Gentle teaching starts with developing a proper image on the person and on his behaviors. We look at four aspects:

  • Does the person feel companionship
  • What are his talents and problems
  • How was his development
  • What is the essence of the problem

Does the person feel companionship?

In regard to the importance of companionship, it's logical to start here. Answering this question isn't as easy as it seems. At first glance it may seem that we have a good relationship with the person, but after a second look, the relationship may be not so good. At least not from the perspective of the person.

It's important that we learn to look at the stability of the relationship. Does the person only like to be with us when he is in a good mood, or also when he is facing problems or stress? Does he like being with us only when he takes the initiative himself, or also when it's our initiative?

Signs for a lack of companionship are for example

  • Avoiding eye contact or warm touches
  • Pleasing behaviors
  • Turning or walking away when we initiate the contact
  • No reciprocity of loving / caring feelings
  • Withdrawing physically or mentally when facing struggles or stress

On the download site you can find an assessment to evaluate how far the person is on his way to companionship.

Talents and problems

When we describe the person, we first look at qualities we can use to develop companionship with him, and to give him a valuable place in our life and the life of others around him.

We look at his talents and his problems. Why these two?


A talent is everything a person is good in, what he likes to do or what makes us like him. For example that he has a wonderful smile, that he likes giving me candy's or that he likes watching television together with others.

Some behaviors which usually irritate or annoy us, we can look at from another perspective and see as a talent. For instance a person who needs very much attention and tries to get it in a pushy way. We can see this behavior as impropriate or negative. Then it irritates us and we tend to respond domineering. But if we see this behavior as an expression of a deeper need of the person, and as an opportunity he gives us to give him what he needs,  we won't be irritated. We will give him the attention he needs with compassion, and even if we don't have time to give the attention, we will still feel compassion for him.

This turning-our-look may seem artificial, but if you train yourself doing this, it will become genuine and beneficial for both the person and you.


In describing the problems of the person, it's important to describe the problems of the person and not the problems we or others have dealing with him.

Especially when we are dealing with so-called negative behaviors, we shouldn't look at them as the problems to describe, but we describe the problem the person has at that moment

Other problems we describe are not related to behaviors, but are the many small and major problems the person faces during his days. Examples are: not being able to dress himself, not being understood by caregivers, not understanding others, not knowing what he wants to eat, etc.

The reason for describing his problems is not to make him a pitiful person, but to identify the moments we can use to teach him that he can feel unconditionally safe with us and loved by us. Just by giving him our help, whenever he faces one of his problems.

Will this make him more dependent of us? NO

We don't have to help by taking over. We can also do it together. And most important to realize: as soon as the person has a stable foundation in companionship, he will start doing whatever he can by himself because he wants to, not because we want him to do so.

How is the development of the person?

Almost with all people with an intellectual disability we see a disharmony in the physical, cognitive and emotional development. A person may be 30 years old, have a cognitive development comparable with a child of 5 years and an emotional development comparable with a child of 2 years.

A disharmonic development is difficult to deal with. For the person himself it can be difficult, because he consist of different layers without connection between them. He may be doing things he doesn’t want to do or understand why he is doing it.

For caregivers it is difficult to see what you can expect from the person and how to communicate with him.

The major problem is the representation level of the person. This is how we see him at first glance or how he sees himself. This level is created by how the person looks, how he talks, by his skills, and by his conditioned behavior patterns.

When the representation level far exceeds the cognitive and emotional development, there is a huge chance that we overestimate the person and create stress by our demands and our disappointment when he doesn't meet them.

Many people with a mild intellectual disability often overestimate their own potentials and thereby create their own disappointments. In themselves and in others. This may result in low self-esteem and not trusting others anymore.

It's important to realize that being able to control stress and impulses is not related to age, representation or cognitive development, but to the emotional development of the person. And one more thing. When the emotional development is like a two year old child, we can also expect many behaviors similar to the two year old child: stubbornness, not being able to wait, not being able to share, etc.


What is the essence of the problem?

Not only can the emotional development of a person determine his actual strength. There may also be deeper problems in the form of personal vulnerabilities and traumatic life-experiences.  This is represented in this picture.

Circels of strengthThe outer circle shows the representation of the person, like we described earlier. The inner circles are his cognitive and his emotional strength. Now we don't speak of emotional development, but of emotional strength, because there is a difference between the two.

Grown-ups who have had a normal development, may under certain circumstances have a decrease of the emotional strength compared to normal circumstances. At these moments, and under stress, they will act according their emotional strength at the moment.

In the middle of the circles is the heart / core of the person. In this core are not only the dreams and qualities of the person, but also his vulnerabilities and traumatic experiences.

The vulnerabilities can be an intellectual disability, a mental illness, Alzheimer, autism, epilepsy, etc.

In regard to the traumatic life-experiences we have to remember that these are not only caused by severe incidents. Traumas can also gradually develop as a result of a repetition of similar 'minor incidents' like corrections, punishment, rejection, etc.

Most of the behaviors we regard 'negative' are directly caused by these vulnerabilities and life experiences. The problem is in the heart, not in the head.