Positive Psychology and Childhood Disability

Positive Psychology and Childhood Disability
Disability rights activist Norman Kunc wrote an article included in 1992's Restructuring for Caring & Effective Education discussing Abraham Maslow's original work on self-actualization through meeting the hierarchy of human needs that supports inclusive education practices.

Mr. Kunc explains how the inversion of Maslow's hierarchy in education creates casualties for mainstream students who drop out of school or join gangs, are waylaid by perfectionism or tragically attempt suicide, and those who are diverted to segregated classrooms or are included in mainstream classrooms where diversity is not valued.

In recent years, Maslow's work has been carried forward by proponents of what Maslow called "positive psychology" - looking at research about how successful, fully functioning individuals achieve a state of mental wellness. I spent several months working in Abraham Maslow's library in Berkeley as an undergraduate, already greatly respectful of what I have always felt was very practical research. In the years since then, and especially after the birth of my son, I have been greatful that I had an early introduction to the hierarchy of needs and how they impact children and families.

Even in times of plenty, when adults feel their physiological or safety and stability needs are not being met, it is difficult to maintain loving, inclusive relationships, self esteem and fulfillment. Children with disabilities often grow up without adequate attention being paid to their needs for support and encouragement, acceptance and recognition. They may spend their days in schools where staff engage in sarcasm, use of restraints and seclusion is standard, derogatory language is used in classrooms, movies or television assignments, and other students tease or bully with little or now effective intervention. Studying family dynamics while keeping Maslow's hierarchy of needs in mind may help us understand our own sibling relationships, parenting struggles and children's behavioral challenges.

Some children do not have their foundation needs met for shelter, warmth, food or water, more often in low income neighborhoods but also throughout communities where childhood hunger and homelessness are much less apparent. Those who feel secure and included at home may struggle due to psychologically or physically unhealthy situations at school.

My son developed insulin dependent diabetes when he was seven years old, and it took quite a number of meetings with staff and administrators over the years to assure that he had access to food and water when medically necessary.

Some families struggle because there is no support for family intervention or because there are few positive parenting role models available for adults who are doing their best with what they believe is right for themselves and their children. Positive psychology strategies encourage supplementing our skills through parent training and support, and may also improve our working relationships with staff and administrators on behalf of our children.

Those who have already learned the techniques of positive behavioral support and other strategies that respect the dignity and self-awareness of individuals with disabilities may find that treating themselves with the same compassion and patience will result in similar benefits.

Positive Psychology suggests ways of supporting and enhancing mental wellness rather than measuring and reacting to how an individual falls short or demonstrates their diversity. Our children deserve to benefit from these studies and strategies in school and community programs.

Recently, a three part PBS NOVA series on happiness hosted by Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, was recognized for including people with disabilities. It's about time.

Browse at your local bookstore, public library or online retailer for Stumbling on Happiness and Mental Wellness in Adults with Down Syndrome: A Guide to Emotional and Behavioral Strengths and Challenges or Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche

The Need to Belong: Rediscovering Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

PBS show exploring happiness includes several people with disabilities

this ain't livin'
Magical Thinking Works For You? That’s Great. It Doesn’t For Me.
"... research on patient attitudes often concludes with an indication that patients need to receive better support from the people around them. ..."

You Should Also Read:
Positive Behavior Support in the Classroom
Using Behavior as Communication
Aversive Restraints and Seclusion in Schools

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