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Tips on enhancing a SIS Interview

The effectiveness of SIS as a planning tool depends on how well the SIS interview with the individual is conducted. Asking the right questions and engaging the respondents appropriately are critical in order to understand client needs and to develop effective support plans.  AAIDD SIS Trainer Natalie Ihli and former AAIDD SIS Trainer Colleen McLaughlin share these tips on what makes a winning SIS interview.

Practice, Practice, Practice! People can get hung up on the time it takes to administer SIS. With sufficient practice, an interviewer’s familiarity with SIS can speed up the process while also increasing his/her confidence.

Introduce the assessment. In addition to building rapport with the people you are interviewing, it is always important to introduce what the SIS assessment is. As a beginner SIS administrator, develop a “script” for yourself to practice with. Include in this “script” an introduction to yourself and the SIS (what it does, what it will be used for), include in the script the following important concepts (found in the Manual and FAQ):

It is important for me to ask all the questions and for you to answer them the best that you can. Please keep in mind that there is no such thing as NOT APPLICABLE during this interview. If the individual doesn’t currently do the activity, imagine the support s/he would need if s/he were to do it.

Some important things to remember as you answer the questions. Consider the support the individual would need to be successful in each activity. When answering the questions please consider any behavioral, medical or skill needs the individual may have. Please respond without regard to the supports and services the individual currently receives. Imagine him/her without supports – what would s/he need? If s/he uses assistive technology please rate with said technology in place.

The AAIDD booklet Guidelines for Interviewing People with Disabilities contains a good sample script as well. Use the ideas presented to create an introduction you are comfortable with.

Stay focused on support needs. The SIS measures support needs, not skills. It is easy to get distracted by a person’s abilities when trying to understand what supports he/she may need. While it may make sense starting with questions around skill, keep in mind skill does not necessarily equate support needs.

Choose your respondent(s) wisely. Whenever possible, ensure one respondent is the person with the disability. Counterbalance perspectives by interviewing people from different areas of the person’s life. For example, interview both a family member and a day support staff member. Furthermore, the more respondents you interview the more complete the picture.

When possible, use a group interview process. Using a group process allows people to discuss the amount of support an individual needs and arrive at consensus. It also helps others learn new things about the individual they might not have known before.

Explain SIS and the rating key prior to conducting the interview. When feasible, allow as much time as possible for respondent(s) to prepare for the interview. This may help cut down on the interview time and promote confident answers from respondents.

Involve respondent(s) in decision-making. Offer a SIS for respondents to use and follow along as you conduct an interview. This helps demystify the process while also keeping the interview moving. Respondent(s) will become more comfortable answering when they understand the rating scale. They may even beat you to an answer once they understand the process.

Set the scene. Each SIS subscale measures an area of life. By using person-specific examples, the respondent(s) are more likely to understand what the interviewer is looking for. For instance, if John’s last job was at a local restaurant, refer to that restaurant to glean John’s support needs within the entire Employment subscale.

Take notes. The conversation that arises through SIS administration will provide information that will prove to be invaluable in writing the plan.

Use the verbs within each question as a guide. If you are running in circles with a question, the verb will help remind you of what the question is asking. In addition, know which questions ask about transportation needs.

Phrase questions respectfully. Tackle sensitive issues using courteous language. A respondent may not be as responsive if s/he feels uncomfortable, making it more difficult to get honest, complete answers.

Be attentive to verbal and non-verbal cues from respondents. These cues can help you tailor the length of the interview, the way to phrase a question, and areas of SIS that may need further explanation. For example, if you are having difficultly maintaining eye contact with a respondent and/or obtaining information, it may be helpful to take a short break or ask if the respondent would be more comfortable in a different setting or with someone else in the room. Cater the environment to the respondent.

Balance flexibility with keeping the interview on track. It is easy to get distracted while speaking with someone about support needs. Many times, great ideas can come from discussing the topics within the SIS subscales. While it is important to make note of these ideas or items that require follow-up, be careful not to spend too much time on planning. Stay focused and be aware of the time remaining and remind respondents that the interview is designed to capture support needs. It also may be helpful to share the appropriate time, person, and/or setting with which the brainstorming and planning should take place. Encourage the respondent to make notes of these ideas as well.

Remember, there is no such thing as not applicable. Just because an individual doesn’t currently do an activity doesn’t mean that individual wouldn’t need support if s/he were to do it. Answer all questions as if the person were to do the activity. Use SIS to open up possibilities for people with disabilities.

Natalie Ihli works for the School to Work Alliance program in Colorado Springs, CO and Colleen McLaughlin is with the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, PA.

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