The more we study ourselves as human beings, the more we discover. Assumptions and unsubstantiated certainties can be thrown away as we progress in understanding ourselves. One thing that we all agree upon today, is that people are often talented in ways that even they don’t realise. Drawing upon our creative, artistic capabilities can bring out surprising results – allowing us to recognise the special nature of individuals and the unique value of abilities.

The nature of exceptionality

Across the spectrum of those who are intellectually disabled, this truth of hidden talent is especially pertinent – and in many cases vital to the wellbeing of these individuals. The desire to be creative is overarching in its value to people who may be compromised in many conventional spheres. To find something that can be worked and controlled to create something new is a fascinating driver of all our psyches – but for ID people it is especially important, giving them a purpose and a place in the world that might otherwise be lost to them.

The encouragement of this need for creative expression is critically important to social and emotional health, cognitive growth, and character development. Creativity creates a sense of self and uniqueness, fosters resolve, new perspective, independence, positivity, and confidence. And all of this happens over time with small achievements and continually renewed outlook.

Innovation may only be attempted in the beginning – but once the kernel is established, it invariably flourishes. Needs and abilities fluctuate over time, but with gentle guidance and continual encouragement there are many ingenious ways to trigger an individual’s imagination. Opening the mind to possibility is probably the greatest gift one can give to anyone, and so much more so with a person of intellectual disability who may not have had access to the influence of society in the normal way.  

Tapping into creativity is about broadening choice. Once a person with ID realises they can make their own decisions in terms of what they enjoy doing, you are changing a mindset forever, opening fresh perspective that will engage and motivate for years to come. Growing better with practice is also hugely encouraging. It is vital to keep the momentum going, always emphasizing the power of choice.

Writing a poem, playing a simple song on an instrument, creating colours and shapes with beads, bringing form to an empty paper with paint or coloured cardboard or felt pieces – all of this brings a different element of an individual’s capability and perspective into play. But regardless of results, the flush of success always lies in meeting the challenge and making something happen that had not been there before. Pushing limits and testing abilities strengthens resolve, toughens purpose, and brings about new insights.

When people learn that the struggle is part of the process and not something to fear or feel ashamed of, but vital to their ultimate achievement – then probably the greatest lesson has been learned. Maintaining momentum – seeing the project through to a final stage becomes the next challenge. But never stop encouraging curiosity about the final product – what will it look like? Enthusiasm must not be allowed to wane, reinforcement and confidence building are probably the key drivers at this point. But as each project is finalised and the creator sees their contribution, the desire will become greater, the need to participate more powerful.

Nurturing creativity in people who are intellectually disabled

  • Those who are in service to ID people or who have influence in their lives in some way, should encourage creativity in every possible way. The purpose would be to guide the individual’s strengths, talents, interests and energy into achieving many small projects to begin with.
  • Patience and reassurance without being judgemental are the guiding lights that can fire the imagination. Inspire people with games, language stimulation, and multi-sensory experiences through the exploration of music, art, exercise, dance, puzzles.
  • The value of tranquillity, confidence, vision, hope, purpose cannot be more strongly emphasized. All of this presents a balanced platform that reduces anxiety and stimulates creative expression.
  • Very often, through the creative process, the intellectually disabled person can come to understand their challenges and limitations, including misconceptions about their abilities. Nothing is more liberating than achieving something unique from one’s own endeavours.
  • Working through the steps of a task is invigorating and can entirely redirect perceptions and goals. Celebrate the small steps and accomplishments. It’s about attitude – gradually polishing up the positive and blurring out the negative. An individual can develop a more inquiring mind, more meaningful connections, and a greater sense of purpose.

People who are intellectually disabled often develop their own successful streams of innovation and ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking. Success it seems, may be driven by the possibility they have developed specific neurological processing techniques unique to people with learning disabilities who have been diligently guided and motivated to creative problem-solving thinking.

The story of Sunfield Home

Chris and Lynne Bennett, parents of a young girl with Down Syndrome, pursued their dream of establishing a home for their daughter and other intellectually disabled young adults in the Western Cape. Together with other parents, they founded the Sunfield Home in Wellington, providing a loving and nurturing environment for over 100 residents and day-care adult individuals. 

Each individual is screened to evaluate their strengths and allocate activities according to their abilities. A protective workshop has been established where contract work is undertaken, as well as arts and crafts activities.

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