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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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In a few cases we observed how through a close cooperative relationship between the special class teacher and the teacher of a regular class of older children, a small group of these non-handicapped children, at their own request, guided play activities of individual handicapped children -- always, of course, under proper direction. Language stimulation or some specific sensory motor activity was at times included.


In the nursery schools, of course, mothers of the children frequently participate in the educational process, as has long been a requirement in cooperative nursery schools and playgroups.


Altogether, parent participation in programs for mentally handicapped children is seen with increasing frequency, and this has added a new, enriching dimension to the manpower picture in the field of mental handicap. In several countries, selected parents have been trained to perform a function variously described as parent resource person, pilot parent, or visiting parent. Their task is to contact families where the problem of mental handicap has recently arisen and to provide emotional support, as well as specific information designed to encourage parents to utilize existing clinical, counseling, and auxiliary services, and to encourage parents to focus on meeting the needs of the child. At times such programs are managed independently by parent associations, but we have been in communities where physicians have accepted this arrangement as a valuable service which they can and do recommend. Parents also play in some parent education group programs the role of group leader. In France the parent-to-parent support program is well developed throughout the country under the name "Action Familiale" -- or inter-family action, the translation used in a symposium on the subject held under the auspices of the International League of Societies for the Mentally Handicapped in 1972.


In Britain the National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children is promoting, through its regional organization, parent-to-parent support programs, and mention must also be made of the parent education demonstration programs undertaken by the Hester Adrian Research Centre at the University of Manchester.


It has not been possible for us to get an adequate picture of the many changes which are presently under consideration and in various stages of formulation in Britain, as far as manpower training of basic personnel working with mentally handicapped individuals in the area of health and social services is concerned. We do know that the results will be carefully evaluated in other countries where similar needs are felt but no such large scale efforts have been mounted. We would like to make one particular comment here that invites, we hope, controversy. It seems to us that some of the traditional training programs for institutional personnel, which originated during a period when there was little appreciation of developmental concepts and when maintenance of orderly routines of care was emphasized, result in staff attitudes -- even among younger, newly trained workers -- which reject a more dynamic, individualized approach.


Finally, there are definite indications that in the future we will see a new role for the handicapped individuals themselves. Sweden, already in 1973, issued a directive prescribing that every mental retardation service meet periodically with the clients, the retarded people themselves, to provide opportunity for them to participate in decision making insofar as this is feasible. In the words of the directive, the purpose is to stimulate individuals to participate actively in the shaping of their own situation and circumstances.


Even to some seasoned workers, expecting judgments of this nature from retarded individuals appears quite unrealistic. Yet elsewhere we have reported on the Mohawks, a social club of mentally retarded young men in Boston, Massachusetts, in existence for some ten years. More recently this group of young retarded people has successfully offered their services, for a modest fee, to provide consultation to organizations planning projects such as a sheltered workshop, hostel, or community residence.


Client participation is known in the field of rehabilitation as co-management. Enabling mentally retarded persons to have a voice in decisions affecting their daily living may seem to have little relevance to a discussion of the manpower situation. Yet when such participation leads to lessened dependence on staff and, at least for some, results in the ability to live in unsupervised apartments (as is already the case in some countries), the relevance should become clear.

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