Spiritual Life Assessment

By David Morstad

As evidenced by the joint position statement by the ARC and AAIDD, spirituality is acknowledged to be an important aspect of life for all people. From the standpoint of professional support provider planning and implementation, however, there continues to be little integration of active spiritual support into formal planning – and this includes many faith-based organizations.

Assessments in general have undergone a philosophical shift in the past 20 years. Historically, the purpose of personal assessments was to identify deficits so that remediation could take place.

Can’t tie his shoes? Let’s develop a detailed plan to fix that.

Doesn’t like to get up in the morning? Let’s design a reward (or negative consequence) program that provides her with incentives to do so.

As John O’Brien and Connie Lyle have eloquently stated,

“people with severe disabilities were habitually, reflexively, and profoundly underestimated by almost all of the professionals who assessed their capacity to learn and to work.”

As the planning process has philosophically shifted to become more person-centered, assessments have shifted as well. Assessments are now largely acknowledged to be a process of gathering information to learn about what is important to and for the person. The purpose of assessment is to deepen understanding of the person as an initial step in both person-centered and person-directed supports planning and implementation. Since spirituality is acknowledged to be an integral part of a valued life, how is it that we as professionals have not incorporated it into the complete picture of assessment and planning?

To be fair, assessment instruments dealing with spirituality aren’t that common. Also, the assessment of individuals’ spiritual lives has been experiencing a philosophical shift of its own. No longer a mere profile of preferred practices (faith traditions, congregation membership, and involvement in social activities), there is a new interest in a much more sophisticated assessment of spiritual life and growth which may take into account models of spiritual life development.

This may provide us with a unique opportunity for conversation.

As a result of (1) the philosophical change toward planning, and (2) the acknowledgement of the value and purpose of spirituality in the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, spiritual life assessments (leading to meaningful supports) ought to be more seriously examined, developed and incorporated into the functional array of provider supports.

At the annual AAIDD conference in June, we hope to broaden this conversation a bit further in one of the scheduled presentations. We will review and discuss examples of assessment instruments that have the potential to be integrated into the functional support plans of individuals, and into the operational processes of the agencies that support them. It promises to be interesting.

In the meantime, if you have thoughts on the subject, we’d love to hear from you.

One Response

  1. What do I think? This is exactly why Bethesda is a leader – innovative in every aspect, including and foremost: a person’s spiritual life. Which – is the most important aspect for life on earth and life forever!

    I hope that after the June presentation you will blog more details about what some of these assessments instruments are – share some questions and their potential! I’d love to have a bit more insight into that as it’s hard to comprehend what these tools or listening assessment questions or discussions involve.

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