How do I support someone to make decisions?

Being a good decision supporter

It is the supporter’s role to help the decision maker make their own decisions based on their will and preference (beliefs, values and everyday likes and dislikes).

A good supporter will do the following things:

  • know that the decision maker can make decisions
  • know the decision maker well
  • give the decision maker information in the way they can understand
  • support the decision maker to work out what they want
  • help the decision maker to communicate what they want
  • help the decision maker to make the decision happen.
Photo of luke and supporter

Know that the decision maker can make decisions

A good supporter will know and believe that with the right support the decision maker can communicate their will and preference and can be supported to make decisions. A good decision supporter is committed to upholding the rights of the decision maker to have choice and control over their lives.

At first I didn’t believe Lily could make the more complicated decisions about her life because of her memory problems and her inability to communicate when she is emotional or overwhelmed. I really thought it would be too hard for her. But once we started working with a speech therapist I saw that when we broke the decision down into really small steps and used visuals, I saw that she could do a lot more than I ever imagined she could.

Picture of Cathy

Know the decision maker well

Having a positive and trusting relationship with the decision maker is very important. The supporter should understand the decision makers past experiences, their strengths, what they find difficult, their likes and dislikes and what their interests are. The more trusting the relationship you have with the decision maker, the more likely they will feel comfortable sharing what they really want with you.

Give the decision maker information in the way they can understand

To make a decision the decision maker needs to understand their options. The way the options are presented will depend on the way they communicate and will be different for everyone. Some decision makers need options written in easy to read format and others may need pictures of options. Decision makers with more complex communication are more likely to understand their options by experiencing them first hand to see if it’s something they like or want.

Making changes to the way information is given based on the person’s individual needs is called making adjustments. Making adjustments is an important part of supporting the decision maker to make a choice.

The following communication workbook outlines how a person communicates and how they prefer to receive information. It may be useful to develop one with the person you support to help everyone understand their communication style.

Watch the video where Rajni talks about how she supports Sidharth to communicate.

Support the decision maker to work out what they want

The supporter’s main role is to make sure decisions are based on the decision makers will and preference, not what other people think is good for them. The supporter will support the decision maker to gather information and think about the positive and negative outcomes of each decision. It’s important to take the time to watch and listen to the decision maker to find out what they are telling you.

When the decision maker chooses or refuses an option it is useful to ask more questions about why they made that choice and to listen and watch their response. By asking questions you make sure the decision maker fully understands the options and is not saying yes or no because they do not understand or they want to make other people happy.

DON’T ASSUME anything about me. ASK. LOOK AND LISTEN.

Portrait of Lily

Help the decision maker communicate what they want

Once the decision maker has made a decision it is important to support them to identify who should know about the decision. The decision maker may be worried about telling people about their decision and may need help to do this.

Once a decision has been made it is a good idea to document a decision. Documenting a decision means writing it down so people know about it. It may be useful to use this “my decision” template with the person you support.

Photo of Rajni and Sidharth

Help the decision maker make the decisions happen

The supporter must work with the decision maker to take steps to make the decision happen.

This involves working with the other supporters in the person’s life to make sure the decision maker is well supported to put the decision into action.

The decision maker can change their mind at any point about a decision and should be supported to do so when this happens.