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Identity, Communication and Behaviour

Identity, Communication and Behaviour

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Published by Alan Challoner

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Published by: Alan Challoner on Nov 12, 2012
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Page 1 of 9
Identity, Communication and Behaviour
Alan Challoner MA(Phil.) MChS1993
It is now well-established policy for the handicapped and learning impaired individual toremain in his/her community. Before long the doors will finally close on hospitals for thelearning disabled.However it was, in part, the recognition that this was the way ahead, that brought about theclimate of
 special needs
provision. Unfortunately it has been the case that in attempting toprovide the services that were expected to fulfil these 'special needs', the recipients havethemselves been seen as
in such a way that they now seem to have lost therecognition that in many ways they are normal.No matter to what degree, or by what cause, a person is handicapped in the intellectualsense, that person still inherits certain characteristics that are consistent throughout the humanrace. If this fact is not recognized then society does them a disservice.I will deal with three of those characteristics: the development of a personal identity; a needto communicate; and closely bound with the way in which those two are permitted todevelop, a pattern of behaviour.Where learning difficulties are present in the life of any individual, the nature of thesecharacteristics tend to be perceived by others in the reverse order of that just stated. That iswe notice unusual behaviour, we are then aware of difficulties in the receiving or in the givingof information, and lastly we are struck by the overall
between the way in whichthe person actually is seen to be, and the 'societal norm' with which we have become familiar.As a consequence individuals are generally prioritized for attention in the same reverse order to what is most important to them. Thus if we concentrated firstly on identity; and secondly oncommunication; the third, behaviour, would be unlikely to draw attention as it would beunremarkable.You will have recognized of course that these differences can also be noticed amongst thosewhom we might
to conform to societal norms. I mention this only to reinforce myearlier point that
people are in most ways normal. It is important also tomention the obvious that, apart from physical or physiological abnormalities, the'handicapped' person's body works in exactly the same way as anyone else's.
The way in which identity develops has an importance for everyone, the learning disabledperson included. Human growth stems from the conflicts, inner and outer, which the healthy
Page 2 of 9
personality weathers. Amongst these there are several criteria according to which a healthypersonality
actively masters
his environment, shows a certain
unity of personality
, and is able to
the world and himself
. In considering that all of these criteria are relative toa child's cognitive and social development, we may look upon childhood, by definition, ashaving an initial absence of such criteria, and of developing them in complex steps ofincreasing differentiation.This principle is derived from the growth of organisms in the womb. It states that the growth ofliving organisms follows a pattern or plan. As this plan proceeds and unfolds there arisesindividual parts which eventually will form the functioning whole. Each separate part of thisdevelopment has a critical phase where there is a particular danger of defect.In addition to these, and following birth, the baby enters the system of his society and willproceed to develop his capacity to meet the opportunities of his culture. How well hesucceeds in this will depend upon any genetic defect, or damage that was sustained beforebirth, or subsequent to birth; or to the effects of his environment and the nature of parentalinfluences. There will be inner conflicts to be met and these idiosyncratic developments willdetermine how and in what manner the individual becomes a distinct personality.In all this development of identity there is a proper rate and a proper sequence, butnevertheless it does vary from culture to culture. The child who is met with understanding andrespect and who is given appropriate guidance will follow instinctively these inner laws ofdevelopment. These laws ensure a series of potentialities for significant interaction with thosewho will parent him and the society which responds to him. So we have the force from withinand the interaction from without, and these two will allow for the development of personalityover a period of time. This time may be contained mainly within the first seven years of life; or it may extend further in certain circumstances.What is worth considering is how these forces and interactions vary; not only in normal, healthychildren but in those who are handicapped
or who have a potential for becominghandicapped.
There is here a paradox in which the child, having instinctive energy (thegenetic endowment of developmental potential), is also vulnerable; and whilst thisvulnerability is always present in some respects, the child is also completely oblivious andinsensitive in others, and yet remains unbelievably persistent in the same respects in which he isvulnerable. If the child is to grow up
the family must reorient itself to accommodatehis presence and they must grow together as a group. A family can bring up a baby only bybeing brought up by him. His growth consists of a series of challenges to them to serve hisnewly developing potentialities for social interaction.If however the baby's instinctive responsiveness is damaged in some way, or if his societalenvironment is deficient, then this situation has the possibility of creating a damagedpersonality, which in itself may be the basis of a handicap, or at least contribute to causingthe handicap to be visible because the child becomes socially unacceptable due to thedifferences from the norm that are exhibited by him.It can be considered that the earliest and most undifferentiated
 sense of identity
arises out ofthe encounter of maternal person and small infant; an encounter which is one of mutualtrustworthiness and mutual recognition. This is, in all its infantile simplicity, the first experience ofwhat later becomes love and admiration and can be called a sense of
hallowed presence
,the need for which remains basic in man. Its absence or impairment can dangerously limit thecapacity to feel identical, when adolescent growth makes it incumbent on the person toabandon his childhood and to trust adulthood and, with it, the search for self-chosen lovesand incentives.
Page 3 of 9
Deprivation of
in any or all of the above aspects will so compound the basic deficitsof the infant that the degree of handicap can be intensified. This not only sets the child apartfrom his family, causing in some cases infantile depression and subsequent withdrawal, butbegins the process of accentuating the difference that handicap imparts, and draws agreater gap between the individual and the society of which that person is part.Identity then is closely related to the development of personality, and to the capacity of eachperson to meet the opportunities of their culture. It is purposeful to understand the ways inwhich problems in particular areas of personal development might contribute to a defectiveidentity, and possibly to a handicapped personality. This in turn affects all degrees of learningdisability. It is particularly important to stress the phases of
widening social radius
evelopmental crisis
for if, due to segregation, the child is not allowed appropriate encounterswith his peers at this stage then his cultural development will be interfered with in a way thatwill set him apart and will influence his life in a devastating way.The areas of growth of identity affect all developing children, whether normal or handicapped, and where the needs of the child, in these respects, are fully responded to,there will be a positive contribution made to the potential of a brain-damaged or other handicapped child. Contrarily if the needs of a child, who is normal at birth, are notaddressed in those respects, then a handicapped identity may ensue. This in turn may lead toa disturbed personality, low self-esteem, and deficient learning capabilities. All of which mightbe a sufficient basis for a child to be afflicted, unnecessarily, with a mild learning disability.If we are prepared to try and counter the onset of learning disability by use of geneticresearch, counselling and engineering; then surely we would not be going beyond our moralduty in trying to reduce the amount of learning disability that might be induced bydeprivation? If this is a moral obligation, is it not also our moral duty to protect deprivedchildren from the difficulties, problems and indignities brought about by learning disability? Or will this cause other harms that would affect identity and personality in other ways?I believe we must attempt to make a realistic assessment of the situation of each individual, inorder that we may determine if action, or lack of it, is likely to cause most harm. Of course thiscan at best only be a pragmatic assessment, we could all have been different in many wayshad the circumstances of our developing years been different. However for those who lack autonomy to any degree, and this includes children, society must do what is best for thosepersons or it will be failing in its moral obligations.If we are going to improve the lot of the handicapped person, is it sufficient to start this whenthe handicap is thoroughly evinced? Ought we not to put in place systems of support, inanticipation of what otherwise may be a sure and certain progression towards some degreeof isolation and weakness of identity, thus predisposing to learning disability ?
One of the basic elements of a stable society is adequate and proper communication. In thepast, because of learning difficulties there were some persons who were not able to talk, letalone read or write. Others who were physically handicapped may have been unable towalk unaided which added to or may even have been the cause of some intellectualimpairment, because they were treated differently.In these latter cases it was assumed that because they didn't respond in what was consideredto be an appropriate manner, they
understand. As a result they were, at best

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