Article written by Ruth Grech, tutor in the Inspire Adults Programme
As a person who has worked with individuals having various disabilities of all ages I have seen the positive impact autonomy has on the individual and how important it is for children to grow up with an understanding of their own abilities and how independent those abilities make them.
This has become more evident to me personally since I have been working at Inspire, with adults having intellectual disabilities. Working with adult clients has made me realise that what they are taught from a young age affects them for the rest of their lives. If they grow up thinking that they have the potential to think, feel and make decisions on their own – it could positively affect many aspects of their adult lives.
If children were encouraged to perform tasks appropriate to their age and abilities from early on, then it may come more natural to them as they progress into adulthood. For example, if they are supported through the learning process of catching the bus and are encouraged to do so earlier on in adolescence, then eventually they could potentially become more independent when they need to go out to meet a friend or go to work later on in life. This therefore increases the quality of their lives and enables them to integrate further within society.
Autonomy, therefore, is not only restricted to certain physical abilities of the individual but also the ability to take charge of their emotions and behaviour. Growing up, a child needs to own up to his/her own behaviours and reactions to situations and have the appropriate consequences to actions irrelevant of the fact that they have a disability.
It is always important to keep in mind the child’s limitations to understand certain concepts and it is important for family members to have realistic expectations of their child. This is helped by having clear communication processes so that the child is completely aware of his/her environment and hence will also know why certain actions have consequences, both negative and positive.
One of the main goals that are set out for the individual I work with for them to achieve is Independent Living. It is one of the main things we work on, on a daily basis, from weekly domestic independence sessions in a flat, to weekly outings in the community in which they practice catching the bus on their own.
Sessions in the flat help them practice skills which are needed for a person living independently and with the right help and resources these clients are more than capable of leading independent lives. Another positive aspect of training for independent living in the community is for the clients to interact with other people hence practicing their social and communication skills.
When children grow up being familiar with the concept of taking care of themselves it is a lot easier for them to be part of the community and independent adults in the future.
Thus, rather than limiting the ability of a person with disability, we (as a society) should strive to provide them with the tools to adapt and survive – such that they in turn are able to function with a certain level of independence and autonomy.