Probably one of the most difficult aspects of working with the intellectually disabled is to know fully what they need or what they want, and how to apply solutions that are helpful and well received. There are many studies and theories and programmes, but it is becoming more apparent that adults with developmental disabilities may know more about what they need than the person who cares for them.

The focus today should be less on what they cannot do, than on what they can do – their individual abilities and skills and experiences which should be nurtured to enable them to become more independent.

Awareness and Perspective

  • Knowing how people with intellectual disabilities see themselves is key to creating greater connections and opportunities for them to operate positively in society.
  • It is extremely important that one remains aware that intellectually disabled people can experience very similar emotions to anybody else – specifically with regard to depression and finding a sense of purpose.
  • Understanding the effect of the discrimination they may have suffered for years, is another aspect worth investigating and adding to the mix of more intuitive management.
  • People with intellectual disabilities are sensitive to your opinions and views of them, and your capacity to share their perspective of themselves in a respectful and empathic way is highly important in terms of their personal experience of being different.
  • Providing reassurance and comfort is vital, especially in helping people to engage with others in society with greater confidence.
  • Joining in the world of people who do not have disabilities can be intimidating. Invite intellectually disabled individuals into spaces that will specifically put them at ease and not on the defensive. They should feel valuable in themselves, able to contribute, and not feel they may be a nuisance to others.
  • It is useful to remember that intellectually disabled people have taken longer than average to learn basic elements such as walking, talking and taking care of personal needs. They may have experienced learning problems such as being unable to learn at the same rate as others and to adapt easily to new situations. Life skills do not come as easily to the intellectually disabled as they may to those who do not have disabilities.

Characteristics of Intellectual Learning Disabilities

  • The common characteristics of intellectual disabilities: difficulty learning and processing information; problems with abstract thought; and problems with social interactions. These problems occur at varying levels unique to each individual.
  • Problems with skill in language, reading, writing, mathematics, reasoning, memory, and knowledge retention.
    From a social point of view, the intellectually disabled may have issues with emotion and reasoning: empathy, judgment, communication, making and keeping friends, and other social functions.
  • Personal hygiene and personal financial management may also cause problems. All these aspects need to be considered when the care of an individual is being planned.

Once you have a clear picture of how the disability impacts on learning, and the personal life experience of a person under care, you can consider ways to help them develop more useful learning skills, and give them more reasonable opportunity to demonstrate and practice what they have learned.

The story of Sunfield Home

Twenty years ago, 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. An employment scheme has also been developed and as a result permanent and successful positions have been found within the surrounding wine and cheese industries.

Find out more about us at: www.sunfieldhome.co.za