What is Peer Support, and How Can Such Support Help People with IDD?

/ October 14, 2021

By Dylan Brown

Peer support is not a new idea.  The behavioral health field has been using peer supporters as part of its service delivery model for many years, such as those with mental health conditions or substance abuse disorders.  Although using peer support for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as part of a service delivery model is more recent, anyone who has seen the movie “Crip Camp” or is familiar with Centers for Independent Living knows that the concept of peer support for this population has been around for decades.

So, what is peer support for people with IDD and why does it matter?  Peer support in the IDD service system means pairing trained individuals with disabilities with other persons with disabilities to support and encourage them as they learn to advocate for themselves and find ways to live their best lives.  A peer supporter is a person with a disability who has learned life strategies, how to be a self-advocate and how to live independently; and uses their experiences and knowledge to support other people with disabilities, according to disABILITY LINK, https://disabilitylink.org/.

Peer support is the foundation of the independent living movement.  It matters because it works.  Very few things have as great an impact on someone with a disability than hearing from someone like themselves that they can reach their goals.  People with disabilities share common experiences and build each other up.  The positive impact that a peer supporter can have on another person with a disability should not be underestimated.

If you’re a parent, and you’ve sought the advice and support of other parents, you know the value of peer support.

The Employment and Community First CHOICES program offers a peer support benefit.  Its formal name is Peer-to-Peer Support and Navigation for Person-Centered Planning, Self-Direction, Integrated Employment/Self-Employment and Independent Community Living.  Very few participants take advantage of this benefit.  While it is difficult to pinpoint why ECF CHOICES participants don’t ask for it, there are a few reasons why this may be the case. One reason may be simply not understanding how to use the benefit or what it can do, and another reason is that Tennessee didn’t have a strong cohort of trained peer supporters to deliver the service.

Amerigroup, one of the three managed care organizations that administer the ECF CHOICES program for TennCare, saw untapped potential with the peer support benefit. To create a cohort of trained peer supporters, Amerigroup partnered with The Arc Tennessee and disABILITY Link to facilitate the Peer Support Academy.  The Peer Support Academy is a three-day training led by people with disabilities to help other individuals with disabilities to develop the skills needed to be effective peer supporters. So far, disABILITY LINK has facilitated two Peer Support Academies. The Arc Tennessee provides ongoing mentoring for the 17 trained peer supporters and offers paid employment opportunities for them when they get referrals for the service. (This offers a way for individuals with disabilities to have a job where they use the skills gained through their own life experiences. How cool is that?)

What’s next for peer support?  We want people to embrace peer support as a beneficial part of the ECF CHOICES program.  It is a great complement to the employment services, community living services, and more.  These peer supporters are eager support other people with disabilities to realize their potential and live their best lives. If you are interested in learning more about peer support services, contact me, Dylan Brown, peer support coordinator, at dbrown@thearctn.org.

I want to thank Dylan and Carrie Guiden, director of Employment and Community First CHOICES for Amerigroup, as she alerted me to the work of the Peer Academy and connected me with Dylan. While I had seen that peer-to-peer support “benefit” listed in the table of member benefits for ECF CHOICES, I never gave it much thought. I’m delighted to learn more about the option and about this effort to create a larger pool of trained and supportive peers. I hope if you are on ECF CHOICES in Group 5 or 6, or you have a loved one in those groups, you will consider taking advantage of this opportunity! If you have questions about peer support or the Peer Support Academy, you can email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org. Thank you for reading.

Dylan Brown is the peer support coordinator with The Arc Tennessee. At age 22, Dylan was involved in a car accident that resulted in a complete spinal cord injury, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down with limited hand function. Dylan has maintained the determination to be as independent as possible. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and enrolled in Tennessee’s Partners in Policymaking course while finishing his degree. Since then, Dylan has worked at the Center for Independent Living of Middle Tennessee, as an independent living specialist, and assisted individuals wanting to return to work during this role as a work incentives coordinator. Dylan has served on the Statewide Independent Living Council, the Council on Developmental Disabilities, provided disability sensitivity trainings to Nashville hospitality and tourism workers, and currently serves on the Tennessee Disability Coalition board. He is an active member of People First Tennessee, where he chairs the transportation committee. Dylan most enjoys helping others find their own voice!


Share this Post