When Eleanor Lamb's mother died several years ago, her shelter from the world was gone.

Eleanor, a middle-aged woman who is mildly retarded, says she never had to take care of herself because her mother had kept her in a protective cocoon. As Eleanor looks back, she still remembers vividly the vulnerable loneliness she felt when she was told her mother was dead.

But today Eleanor is cooking her own food, washing her own clothes, writing her own checks, playing the piano, learning to become a telephone receptionist and living, with little supervision, in her own home. The change in Eleanor's life become through her own determination and a special program designed to help handicapped Arlington residents.

The program is called Short Term Offer of Help to Parents, or STOP.

Ann Truxell, one of two caseworkers with STOP, said the program is desinged to train adults such as Eleanor to lead independent lives and to provide a consulting service for parents of "developmentally delayed" children who have behaviour problems.

"Developmental delays" are problems such as mental retardation, learning, hearing, visual or speech disabilities, physical handicaps or motor problems that can result in a child being excluded from normal activities with children his own age, Truxell and Brian Miller, the other STOP caseworker, said.

Much of the STOP team's adult training program is as simple as teaching handicapped adults to ride a new bus route. But for Eleanor and some other clients, the team takes on a bigger task - teaching them how to live on their town.

Miller said he spent about a year helping Eleanor learn how to cook.

"He'd show me how to do it, and I'd do it over and over again," Eleanor said. She said the idea of cooking was new to her, as were most household and even some personal hygiene tasks, because her mother never let her do them.

"The bad thing was that my mother never taught me the basics," Eleanor said.

The cooking lessons started out slowly with baked beans and franks, served repeatedly for six weeks, both Miller and Eleanor admit. But over the year Eleanor recorded her progress with weekly charts, and she began to experiment with new recipes. Today she has he own cookbook filled with her favourite dishes.

"I have a way of doctoring up baked beans that's just delicious," she says now.

But cases such as Eleanor's make up only about 25 percent of the STOP team work. The remainder focuses on behavior problems of children.

Anita Auerbach, consulting psychologist for STOP, said the program is unique and especially valuable because workers go directly into the home to advise the parents rather than working with the children in an unfamiliar office environment.

"There's an old saying," she notes. "If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. But if you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime."

That is the philosophy behind the STOP program, Auerbach said. She explained that it is designed to teach parents to cope with behavior problems their children are having and will have for the rest of their lives by showing the parents how to use behavior midification therapy.

The parents are taught how to reinforce or reward good behavior and sometimes how to respond with punishments for bad behavior, she said. The focus, however, is usually on the rewards. By learning the methods outlined in the program, parents often can avoid being forced to place children with major problems in institutions, she said.

"Children will work for reinforcement more than they will work ro avoid punishment more than they will work to avoid punishment," she said.

The three major areas of behavior problems the STOP team has worked with are young, pre-teens running away from home, children throwing violent and frequent tantrums and older children refusing to be toilet trained, Auerbach,said.

Miller said the STOP team only advises parents in these problems and that the hard work of imlementing the advice is left to the parents. The STOP team is there to help parents when they get so close to the problem that they "can't see the forest for the trees," he said.

"Parents are trying to fight (numerous) problems," he said. "We help the parents find their battlefield."

Because the parents play the crucial role in the therapy, the STOP team will not take a case until the parents have requested help, Truxell said. The success or the failure of the program is dependent on the parents, she added.

"Most parents are able to do it because the problem is critical," she said. However Truxell recalled one case in which a 17-year-old client was not toilet trained and the family, although claiming to want to help, never carried though the rewards and punishments she prescribed. Finally the team had to leave the case because the client was not improving, she said. When the STOP workers leave a case they always invite the parents to try the program again when they are ready to do the work, Auerbach said.

Auerbach said the STOP team will help parents only with specific physical problems. As an example, she said parents could not come to the program and say their child not come to the program and say their child was too aggressive; they would have to pinpoint the agressiveness, such as noting the child hits or kicks other family members or friends. That specific action can then be adjusted through behavior modification, she says. The real benefit, she says, is that the specific problem is lessened and often the child becomes much happier and better adjusted.

"When these kids fall into a little better harmony with their environment . . . many of their emotional problems fade aways," she said.