"Dis" - A Matter of Perspective

On facilitating a group for people with developmental distinctions

by Gina Calhoun

We often view people who learn outside the academic status quo as disabled.  This has not been my experience. I had the honor to facilitate a group for people with developmental distinctions.  Let me tell you a little about our group. 

First, I learn by experience - trying something over and over to discover what works and what doesn't work.  Rachel, another member of our group, likes to process ideas over and over until  she internalizes what she needs to be happy and healthy.  From Rachel, I witnessed that self-determination and persistence is linked to understanding.  Christopher, the third member of our group, doesn't speak with a voice that is easily understood to common ears.  He learns by being heard and validated for his contributions.  I had a great opportunity to actively listen in a new way.  Next is Nikki, who is a good listener and learns in the quiet space of silence.  I had a chance to 'pause' and use silence as a tool.  And finally there is Sue who learns by letting her voice be heard.  She is very good at balancing listening with sharing. From Sue, I had a chance to practice timing, when to open my ears and when to open my mouth.

I realized how liberating it can be to live life being uniquely myself and fully accepted by four other unique individuals. It was not a matter of holding fast to the societal norm of learning a certain way.  Our group embraced differences as an opportunity to become curious.  We became detectives on a quest to discover more about each other and more about ourselves.

As I went through the group for people with developmental distinctions, I heard - "Good Job"; "Great Answer" and "I'm going to try your idea".  The validating statements did not always come from me, but from a group of people excited and able to become experts on themselves, while honoring all the experts in the room.

People with developmental distinctions have abilities.  We would do well to expand our view of ABLE.

Experts by Experience Speak Out:
Each of these experts by experience have developmental distinctions and have found a tools that help them live the life they want for themselves as well as tools for connecting with supporters and creating relationships.

Rachel: "I learned what it means to be a facilitator.  I want to become a facilitator because I am a person who likes to share and learn from others."

Christopher On Support: "I would tell others who or sad or in pain, to be patient.  It takes time and you will get through it...have hope."

Nikki: "Being part of a group was enjoyable.  I got to think about who I am.  I also liked the supportive friends in our group."

Sue: "The group made me think about myself in ways I had not done so before."