The phrase “positive approaches” was coined by Herb Lovett, the author of Learn to Listen, in 1988. The idea was that positive approaches seemed too vague a phrase to suggest a technology, but did imply the spirit of exploration, of working with—rather than on—people.
“Positive approaches” is a way of life that moves from control to collaboration. It is in listening to people with difficult behavior that positive approaches contrast most clearly with most approaches to service to help people with severe disabilities. In the world of positive approaches, we work in collaboration and in a spirit of openness, honesty, and equality. We make decisions by listening to all people involved (not just the person, the family, the professional – but all of them). Within the context of the personalities, needs, preferences, and strengths of those involved, we come to some decisions. This approach contrasts with how many services are organized. We may say we are working for the good of people with disabilities, but what that is and how it’s to be achieved is decided for them. In many services, we respond to whoever can force us to respond. Too often, we make compromises that come from resignation rather than from negotiation. Many decisions are made because of policy rather than because they make sense to the people involved.
Positive approaches are about behavior changes through personal growth and mutual responsiveness. This work starts with each person and each group, and as experiences widen and deepen, some principles emerge, but they emerge from the lives of the people involved, and are not imported mechanically. Positive approaches are about ways to think about people—a way of keeping people present as individuals in our minds and hearts.