SOCIALISATION AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
Socialisation plays a key role in the construction of an individual’s personal identity. It is through social interaction that the individual forms a sense of self. The ‘other’ is both a mirror of the self and a factor in shaping it. Socialization takes place in the early stages of an individual’s life. The individual thus assimilates the fundamental values and social norms of behaviour. As equal members of society, people with disabilities are guaranteed the right to participate in social activities. This makes a decisive contribution to strengthening democracy and equality. Aristotle said “Man is a social being and if he can be left alone, he is not a man, but an animal or a god”. He claimed that man has an innate need for socialization social interaction.
In the international literature on persons with disabilities, there is a strong emphasis on the degree of functioning, adaptive capacity and quality of life. In the Handbook of the American Psychiatric Association, adaptive capacity is mentioned as a criterion for the diagnosis of intellectual disability. Adaptive impairments can have an impact on communication, social/interpersonal skills and self-care. It further impacts home life, use of community resources, self-direction, functional academic skills, work, recreation, health and safety.
Children with mild intellectual disability also show more negative motivation towards problem solving compared to typically developing children. Because they fail more often in problem-solving tasks, children with intellectual disabilities develop a strong sense of failure known as “learned helplessness”. This increases as their cognitive age increases. That is, they develop a passive attitude that reinforces negative motivation. So even if there are experiences of success they are attributed to external factors such as luck or ease of the task.
Furthermore, it is found that these children have a greater need for acceptance. In one of Zigler’s (1961) studies, children with and without intellectual disabilities were asked to play with a boring and monotonous game with the experimenter present. It was observed that the children with intellectual disabilities spent more time with the game. The same was the case with the children who were in an institution. This was strong evidence that the children were largely suffering from long-term social deprivation.
For these reasons , it is important to organise activities aimed at socialisation and the cultivation of self-esteem. Such practices represent respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and human diversity by the wider social fabric.
It has therefore been observed that the participation of people with disabilities in experiential exercises is an area of activity with very good results in terms of their socialisation.
WHAT IS EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING
An exercise is a structured proposal made by the facilitator/trainer to the participants for group or individual action. It is structured because it is an action that takes place at a specific place and time and has specific instructions. For this reason it may seem like an artificial situation, but it is a direct experience that brings the participant in contact with himself and others.
The experience – if it happens – is authentic, because everyone in this action is themselves. His feelings, his reactions and the knowledge he gets are genuine because they come from his personal involvement.
The exercises can be kinetic, visual, musical, theatrical, construction, etc.
WHY EXPERIENTIAL EXERCISES ARE RECOMMENDED
Exercises have the following advantages:
- they mobilise the body, the emotions and the mind. The total involvement in what is happening allows an increase in awareness and the appropriation of new information.
- They often take the form of play, so that people open up, act in an automatic and spontaneous way and express genuine elements of themselves.
- They provide a safe environment in which individuals can try out new behaviours, discover new ways of communicating and develop their imagination and creativity.
- They increase interactions and therefore facilitate communication and group bonding.
- They give all individuals the opportunity to have a role, so even the most reluctant get involved.
- They make the discussion that follows more interesting because it comes from shared experience.
- Individuals are put into action and so they take responsibility to act autonomously and gain confidence in themselves.
- It is an effective method for enjoyable and fast learning of social skills.
In a training group the main objective is to develop specific skills and acquire knowledge that will be appropriated and applicable.
Unlike other approaches, experiential experience precedes theory. There is no initial theoretical introduction to the topic on which the group is to focus. The theoretical question as well as the answers are experienced in a personal dimension by the participants through the exercises proposed by the facilitator. It is a knowledge that, because it comes from personal experiences, is appropriated and leads to personal changes and the development of new skills. For this reason, in most of the exercises proposed, people are themselves and do not play a role. The process that follows the experiential experience and involves the observation of themselves, the group and the facilitator gives rise to discussion and further theoretical elaboration of the topic. The animator can then provide more answers and theoretical material on the topic.
UNITS AND AREAS TO WORK ON WITH THE EXPERIENTIAL EXERCISES
The areas that the animator chooses to work on has to do with the fluency and capabilities of the group. She guides and all the participants adapt accordingly. The following are indicative:
- Respect – Courtesy
- Rights – Obligations
- Acceptance of sad events
- Coping with difficulties -Beauty
- Managing anxiety – anger – frustration
- Expression of thoughts-emotions
- Recognizing emotions
The following examples are completely indicative. After all, there is material (which does not concern people with disabilities, as mentioned) which is the basis. From there onwards there are constant variations, additions and general diversifications. The dynamics of the group and the experience of the animator-trainer play an important role.
One of the first experiential exercises involving cooperation is to place a white paper in front of each participant. They should start drawing freely until the animator says stop. Then the animator changes the drawings clockwise. This way everyone has the drawing of the person to their left. He continues to draw until he hears the stop sign again. Then they change the drawings again clockwise. Again the same, until each painting has passed through all the members, so that each one has left his imprint and imagination on all of them. The important thing here is for the instructor to emphasize that if one person, for example, has started to build a house and a stop is heard, the person next to him can make a tree if that thought occurs to him. So the drawings change a lot from their original form and when the circle is closed there should be a discussion on this. How did the members experience the intervention of others; did it become better than everyone had imagined on their own or worse; is it effective for us all to put our stamp on something calmly and patiently or do we prefer to start and finish something without further involvement? Obviously there is no right or wrong answer, we let everyone express themselves freely. The only sure thing is that if a similar exercise on cooperation is repeated after some time, when the group has bonded, the answers are different from the initial ones.
An example relating to trust is the exercise where the people in the group are divided into pairs and one is “dumb” and the other “blind”. The ‘mute’ guides the ‘blind’ person, takes him for a walk, dances with him, shows him around without being able to say a word. The “blind man”, of course with his eyes closed, relies on his partner. He is left in his hands and tries to trust him without being able to ask questions, as his partner cannot answer. Similarly, later the roles change. How easy is it to be left in the hands of another? How much do we trust him? How did we handle the insecurity we felt? Did we get angry? Did we feel exposed to our partner?
One of the exercises that helps confidence is “making up a story.” Each member tells two random words that they have to remember. The first one in the circle begins … once upon a time using the one word he or she had chosen , thus starting a story. The next one continues using the first word and then the next one, and so on, continuing the story. When the cycle is complete, the first one starts again with the second word and the members continue one by one. The story being built should have a flow. Each member should try to continue the story of the previous one by adding his word, but without losing the meaning of the “story” and making it interesting. Once the story is finished the animator tells the story all together with beginning, middle, end.
Then we all draw the story together on a large piece of cardboard or make it with plasticine or act it out as a play. All this creates pride and self-admiration. Children don’t believe they can build something like this and especially when they see it completed, they feel a huge sense of satisfaction.
Finally, some simple examples are given in relation to empathy, which also serve to bond the group.
Members paint with a brush in their mouths, without using their hands. One helps the other as much as possible and then a discussion about people with mobility problems follows. How did they feel? Did they try or give up? Did they feel helpless? Maybe if there is will , patience and perseverance , everything is possible?
Another example is for the members to take a piece of white glue and split it in half. On one side they can make the sadness and on the other the joy. Whatever that means. Person, thought, memory…with collage, tempera or markers. It’s amazing how children transfer images and experiences onto paper. And how they express in this way thoughts and feelings that they could never communicate simply with words. Then the members comment on their own and other members’ works. They put themselves in the other person’s shoes and understand them a little more.
A few examples were mentioned by making a random selection in the modules ,just to make it clearer how some things are worked through experience. It is very important that all members of the group are actually involved and experience what is happening at that moment , because it stays and is kept in memory. It’s not just theory, it’s experience. Of course the most important thing of all, is that there is love, acceptance and respect from the facilitator’s side, because if they receive these feelings the participants have the most correct basis to build on what follows.