Got a Problem? What’s Your PLAN?

Jordan was excited because he was starting his work placement job at a local restaurant. He was hired to clean tables and load the dishwasher in the back of the restaurant. He was looking forward to learning the job and having some money to buy a few things he’d had his eye on.

On the first day of the job Jordan learned how to clean tables and he spent his entire shift bussing tables. He concentrated on making sure that the tables were clean and that he was careful with the dishes. Dave, his supervisor, mentioned that he would need to move more quickly to, “keep things moving.” Jordan was unsure what Dave meant but didn’t feel comfortable asking.

The next day Jordan learned how to load the dishwasher and he was again very careful not to break any of the dishes. He felt that he was doing a good job because he was being careful of the dishes. Again, Dave said several times, “keep things moving.” Jordan thought it was a strange thing to say but didn’t ask Dave to clarify what he meant.

Jordan’s next shift was on a Saturday morning and the restaurant was very busy. Jordan worked hard but noticed that Dave started bussing some of the tables with him. At one point Dave stopped Jordan in the kitchen and said, “Look, Jordan, I really need you to keep things moving. We can’t have people waiting because the tables haven’t been cleaned. I need you to pick up the pace.” Jordan felt that Dave was frustrated with him and was surprised when Dave told him at the end of the shift that he didn’t know if it was going to work out. Jordan called his job coach and told him what was happening. His job coach talked him through the PLAN problem-solving process.

Young adults with strong executive function skills are able to change their perceptions, feelings, thoughts, and actions based on the current situation. However, students who struggle with flexibility may find that they are unable to identify the nature of a problem or to come up with a solution to the problem. Their lack of flexibility may prevent them from moving forward when faced with obstacles, mistakes, or new information. The PLAN Strategy is a step-by-step process for solving big and small problems.

PLAN provides a visual support to guide students through a problem-solving framework. PLAN increases mental flexibility by supporting the student in identifying whether there is a problem, finding possible solutions to the problem, choosing the best solution, and working toward greater independence in problem-solving in the future.

PLAN Strategy Graphic

In the PLAN Strategy, the first step is identifying whether there is a Problem that needs to be solved. The student answers the following question: Is this situation causing stress and anxiety and/or keeping you from moving forward? If “yes,” this is a problem for you.

In the second step the student identifies whether the problem is a Little Problem or a Big Problem. If there is a simple solution with only one or two steps not involving more than one other person, it is most likely a little problem. If the solution is more complicated and involves two or more people, it is probably a big problem.

In the third step the student thinks of two solutions to the problem – their Plan A and Plan B. Plan A is the solution that the student would normally try when faced with a problem. In addition to that solution, they think of one other plan they can try if Plan A does not work. They may ask for help from others – a parent, teacher, or friend – to come up with ideas for solutions. They will want to have at least two solutions before moving on.

The final step is to decide what solution will work best and implement the plan. After trying one solution, the student analyzes whether the solution was effective. If not, they go through the PLAN steps again.

PLAN is a useful strategy for students to increase mental flexibility and problem-solving through identifying when there is a problem that needs to be solved, generating several solutions, and implementing one or more solutions in order to solve the problem. Knowing when there is a problem and solving the problem supports the student in building self-advocacy skills.

Jordan arrived early for his next shift at work. He asked Dave if he could talk to him for a few minutes. He told Dave that he felt like Dave was frustrated with him and asked him how he could be more effective at his job. He asked Dave what he meant when he said, “keep things moving.” Dave explained that he meant Jordan needed to work faster and shared some tips that could help with bussing the tables more quickly. Jordan thanked Dave for meeting with him and Dave thanked Jordan for asking for clarification. That day Jordan concentrated on working both carefully and quickly and asked Dave at the end of his shift if he had done a good job of, “keeping things moving.” Dave said it was much better and that he was sure Jordan would continue to improve as he got more practice. Jordan felt relieved that Dave didn’t seem frustrated and felt like it had been a good plan to talk to him and ask him to clarify what he could do better. He also felt proud of himself for taking action to solve the problem himself.

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