I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can make sure my daughter has a happy life long after I’m gone. I can put in place a lot for her, like income and help her build the skills and resources she will need, but her happiness long term will depend not on me but on the people around her. The right kind of friends, the right people keeping an eye out for her. She has a sister, but it doesn’t seem fair to say to her sister she is your responsibility. Of course, she would take the responsibility willingly, but my youngest wouldn’t actually want to feel that her older sister was her guardian. The solution I think is community.
How to build community? You can only build community if you are part of it. What brought on these thoughts? Well, as always, the podcast gets me thinking and the latest was an interview with Clive Harris at The Shed. He talked about not wanting to provide a day care centre but rather provide a space where people came together and through meeting each other changed their perceptions about each other. When it came to finding a location for The Shed it was a case of the location needing to be in the centre of the community, in this case on the main street. As he said people often have a set perception of what a young person with additional needs is and can be. People too often underestimate them and their capabilities. By seeing people every day in their ordinary lives then preconceptions change, and understanding can grow.
If you’re not familiar with the daycare centre model, people with additional needs are provided with daily activities in a protected space. Nothing wrong with that I hear you say; of course, there isn’t, and for some people, this is what they want. But often this is a standard response for everyone and it simply isn’t a case of one size fits all approach when it comes to people. If you listen to the Journey Skills podcasts you will know 40 episodes in there are many organisations out there stretching people and challenging perceptions.
What a lot of these have in common is they are in the middle of the community, not separate. I don’t believe my daughter will believe she is living independently if she is not able to engage with her local community and feel part of something. That’s not independence. Familiarity breeds understanding. I would be lying if I didn’t say that meeting people I don’t understand scares me. It’s the unfamiliar. I think many people are like that when it comes to additional needs. Their views are often based on stereotyped ideas. We all need to talk to the person first not a label. So, places like The Shed, right in the centre of the community, daily challenging perceptions are helping to create a better future for every young person with additional needs.