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Mental Handicap: The World Scene

From: Speeches Of Rosemary F. Dybwad
Creator: Rosemary F. Dybwad (author)
Date: 1975
Source: Friends of the Samuel Gridley Howe Library and the Dybwad Family

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Today a totally different situation prevails. There is great emphasis on the educability of mentally retarded persons, on their capacity for growth and development, for learning and for continued application of what has been learned, their reaching out, and, in a growing number of cases, on their successful adjustment in the community; all this has both resulted in and is the result of a more dynamic approach to the problem of mental retardation.


To make international comparisons in an area of human services is always fraught with danger because so many underlying differences in culture and social technology need to be considered. However, one general observation pertains to the seeming variety and even contradictory nature of manpower development in the field of mental retardation during those 25 years. On the one hand, there is a definite trend towards acquisition of higher level training, a requirement for more specific academic qualification. On the other hand, there has been an interesting emphasis on using workers who have not had extensive training or academic qualifications but whose main strength lies in their ability to come close to the retarded person under care, and whose capacity lies not so much in an intellectual understanding of the many facets of mental retardation but in an intuitive ability to relate to, communicate with, and motivate retarded individuals. On closer scrutiny, these two trends do not turn out to be in conflict with each other but rather refer to quite different, separate functions which complement each other.


A third dimension refers to two additional sources of manpower. The one are the volunteers, often young or elderly persons, interested in helping their fellowmen. The other additional manpower source, at first accepted with great misgivings, are parents of retarded children. In an increasing number of countries they have been given an opportunity to participate actively in a large variety of programs; thus they have become members of what once was described restrictively as the professional team.


Among the established professional groups, education is undoubtedly taking the leadership in developing manpower for the field of mental retardation. In many countries this training originally was quite separate and apart, and usually privately arranged, such as that of teachers for more severely retarded children who were excluded from public schools and banished to so-called training centers, day care centers, and so forth. However, not only are classes for these children now part of an overall mental retardation program in an ever increasing number of countries, but more and more there is being developed a basic curriculum for teachers of all handicapped children, with specialization in the later stages of training. This relates also to the recognition that no child is "ineducable," and that every child should be considered from an individual developmental viewpoint.


In the process there has been a change in the perception of the role of teachers. In the past they often were limited to classroom duties; other so-called "clinical" persons were charged with studying the children and arriving at a diagnosis and plan of treatment. The acceptance of teachers as members of the clinical team has been very slow, yet when it came to the implementation of the recommendation of the clinical team, the teacher became the main actor. Together with a greater appreciation of their contribution has come in many countries an improvement of their salary and in the general status of the teachers of special education. This again has resulted in (or has in part resulted from) an increasing international communication between teachers of mentally retarded children, and, more broadly, special education teachers in general. There now exists the European Association for Special Education, and it is not hard to predict that in the near future we shall see a world-wide organization. There is reason to hope that such an international group will become affiliated with the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Professions, which last year for the first time held a seminar on handicapped children and youth.


Education is one of the fields where personnel not meeting the traditional standards of professional preparation are playing a significant but as yet inadequately explored role. They are teacher aides, whose original function was limited to relieving the teacher of the time-consuming and, to many of them, unpleasant and "unprofessional" task encountered when incontinent or untidy children are admitted to a class group. In various countries we observed instances where the activities of these aides had progressed from a mere job of cleaning up and taking children to the toilet to a sharing of the educational task. They were able, for instance, under proper direction, to keep a group of children suitably occupied so that the teacher could work more intensively with an individual child requiring special attention. In other words, there was a reversal of the pattern which had been anticipated. On the other hand, we also observed instances where the aide would give individual attention and emotional support to a child who was particularly disturbed, perhaps even removing him from the classroom for a quieting walk. The main point I wish to make is that, in this as in other situations, workers with relatively limited formal training, working in conjunction with and supervised by a qualified teacher, can add substantially to the quality of the learning experience in the classroom.

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