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The Strengths Perspective at Astonished!

Dr. Brenda Rossow-Kimball, Astonished! Board Chair, and Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Regina, brings together Strengths Perspectives theory, and conversations with the parents, founders,  and vision keepers who began Astonished!

She writes:

Historically, the dominant narrative in the ‘helping’ professions such as social work, disability studies, and medicine have taken a ‘deficits-based’ approach; a professional assesses an individual’s problems and creates an intervention to ‘deal’ with their inadequacies, illness(es), deficits, lack of achievement or functioning, and so on (Anderson & Heyne, 2012). The nature of the ‘helping work’ undertaken by professionals is situated in a negative state and defined by one’s problems. The strengths perspective is an attempt to write a counterstory of possibility, hope, expectation, and independence in response to a dominant grand narrative of inadequacy, hopelessness, underachievement, and dependence.

Saleebey (2009) writes that the incentive to develop a strengths perspective is a response to “our culture’s continued obsession with psychopathology, victimization, abnormality, and moral and interpersonal aberrations” (p. 2). For example, a deficits approach sees the person as a ‘case’ or ‘diagnosis’ whereas the strengths perspective sees the person as unique with talents and resources; the deficits approach creates an intervention that is problem-focused whereas the strengths perspective will initiate support that is possibility-focused; the deficits approach sees the professional as the expert whereas the strengths perspective sees that individuals, families, and communities are the experts; finally, the deficits approach aims to eliminate illness or dysfunction whereas the strengths perspective aims to enhance one’s well-being and quality of life (Anderson & Heyne, 2012).

“Families are the basic, foundational social units in every society (DeFrain & Asay, 2008, p. 2), yet research on ‘families’ has typically taken a deficits-based approach by emphasizing the problems or weaknesses in families or by highlighting the individuals in the family unit who causes ‘problems’ or stress. For families who live alongside a child experiencing disability, the dominant narrative is negative, citing the experience as stressful (Aneshensel, 2014), depressing (Emerson, 2003), hopeless, ‘copeless’, laborious, and burdensome, leading to family dysfunction and breakdown (McConnell & Savage, 2015).  However, “If one looks only for problems in a family, one will see only problems. If one also looks for strengths, one will find strengths” (Defrain & Asay, 2008, p. 5).

My thinking has been inspired by the initiative and ingenuity of the parents and vision keepers who began Astonished! many years ago.  Because little research focuses on the positivity and strengths within families when facing new and unexpected challenges, I thought the strengths perspective would be an appropriate framework in which to think about the lived stories of mothers and fathers who are parenting a family unit that is experiencing disability.

The strengths perspective suggests that when facing adversity, we ought to put the lens of focus on “what people want their lives to be like, and what resources and strengths they have or need to get there” (Saleebey, 2006, p. 12), I have learned that families, indeed, pull on their strengths and resources to regain and maintain the coherence that existed prior to disAbility. As one parent stated so well, “Everybody sets a bar for their family standards. Ours simply adjusted and now this is our normal. You readjust your normal.” For families experiencing disability, the framework of the strengths perspective may be a response to the longstanding dominant narrative that suggests the experience of parenting is primarily laborious, onerous, family-breaking, and dysfuntional. Families carry on [with] “one foot in front of the other”, “extreme strength”, and “no fear”.

“It’s just ordinary life.”

Strengths Perspective

When I first joined the Astonished! Team in December of 2012 I was in the middle of my Master of Science Degree in Kinesiology and Health Studies.  I had completed all of my course work and recently proposed my research study which focused on organizational effectiveness in municipal recreation provision.  Upon starting with Astonished! I quickly became immersed in ‘all things’ Astonished! and lost interest in my original thesis work (thank goodness).

In early November 2016, Astonished! Board Chair, Dr. Brenda Rossow-Kimball and I had the opportunity to travel to Tampa, Florida to share the work of Astonished! at the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport conference.  Here we drew parallels between the work of Astonished! and the Strengths Perspective which demands a non-traditional way of working with people with disAbilities.  Instead of focusing on medical diagnosis and deficits, the Strengths Perspective encourages seeing people “in the light of their capacities, talents, competencies, possibilities, visions, values and hopes” (Saleebey, 1996).

Attending the conference and reflecting on the work of Astonished! has awakened something inside of me. We do things differently at Astonished! – something I am confident that we are all proud of. In the coming months I will be reapplying to the Faculty of Graduate Studies with the intention of changing my research project.  Under the supervision and mentorship of Dr. Brenda Rossow-Kimball I hope to engage in Narrative Inquiry to co-compose narratives of strength alongside adults experiencing complex physical disAbilities.

Bonnie Cummings-Vickaryous, A! Executive Director

Claiming Full Citizenship

The international conference, Claiming Full Citizenship, October 15-17, 2015 in Vancouver, BC, focused on self determination, personalization, and individualized funding. Rhea Boysen (A! Interim Manager) and I (Brenda MacLauchlan, A! Communications Coordinator and Parent) represented Astonished! at the conference and presented one of the sessions.

How do you summarize the experience of an international conference with 550 participants from regions as diverse as South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, Finland, the United States of America, and Canada? Rhea and I (Brenda) are each writing blog posts about this conference that will give you some ‘snap shots’ of our experience.

The stated learning objectives were:

  • Evaluate the progress in achieving the vision set out in the Seattle 2000 Declaration on Self Determination and Individualized Funding
  • Share lessons learned on the implementation of self-determination, personalization, individualized funding and supported decision making
  • Promote cross national, cross cultural and cross sector dialogue
  • Share best practices
  • Support the realization of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities through promoting the effective global implementation of self-determination, personalization and individualized funding
  • Create a roadmap for the effective implementation of self-determination, personalization, individualized funding and supported decision making
  • Foster cooperative networks across jurisdictions, sectors and interests that will continue after the conference

Snap shot 1-The conference took place in a large, busy, downtown hotel in Vancouver. I was rather overwhelmed by the crowds. Within fifteen minutes of arriving at the conference I was engaged in a conversation with June Arthy and Bronwyn Moloney from Queenland Australia. They came to the conference to tell people their story about people labelled ‘Too Challenging’ or ‘Too Complex’ regaining their place in community. June (I guessed she was in her sixth decade) told me she had lived almost all of her life in an institution for people with intellectual disAbilities. She was delighted to tell me, with the support of a local not-for profit, she has been living in her own home for the last decade. I was inspired and no longer overwhelmed.

Snap shot 2 –The big attraction for me in attending this conference was to learn more about how Individualized Funding is managed in other places. Individualized Funding refers to direct funding to people with disAbilities so they can purchase services according to their needs. As a parent and as a member of Astonished! I have known firsthand the challenges of Individualized Funding in Saskatchewan. I hope we might learn from others like: Manitoba’s In the Company of Friends, a single window to access services, rather than being separated into service categories by diagnosis as we are in Saskatchewan; and Ontario’s Families for a Secure Future and the Ontario Independent Facilitation Network ,independent facilitators that assist individuals with the Individualized Funding process.

Snap shot 3 – This was the first ever international conference that brought together people living with disAbilities and people living with dementia, and families, professional support people, and academics from both of these communities. At first I wondered about the wisdom of putting together disAbility and dementia but I found it broadened the focus and helped us to be more aware of service gaps and attitudinal challenges.

Summer Literacy Success

When you read the words ‘Summer Literacy Program’, what comes to mind? Smiling, happy faces like the ones in the photo above? These are some of the participants in the A! Summer Literacy program.

Pagan Racette (A! Core Member) loved the book I want to Go Home, because it was about summer camp, and she loves summer camp. She also loved coffee break because that is where she got introduced to the app 4 Pics/ 1 Word. The day they learned about blogs she was inspired to create her own blog: My Life with Cerebral Palsy27: Never Give Up 

Ten Core Members, three U of R volunteers, four companions, two A! volunteers, program coordinator Ella McIntyre, and summer student Tara Lazurko participated in this summer program. They got to know the University of Regina and one another, tried out fabulous apps for their iPads and tablets, challenged each other in word games, participated in shared reading, worked on individual literacy lessons, and strengthened their social connections.

Alykhan (Al) Bhanji (U of R student and A! Volunteer) was impressed with the way Ella incorporated interactive apps, social networking, and podcasts that focused on the interests of each individual.

Paige Racette really liked the group reading. She finds it easier to comprehend the oral rather than the written word and this helped her fully participate in analyzing the book outline, characters, and plot development.

Everyone felt a little sad on August 20th because the A! Summer Literacy program was over.

Thank You to everyone who participated and made this program such a great success.

Extra Big Thank You to:

Dairyland Agro Supply Limited– the Summer Literacy Program Official Sponsor/Supporter

HRSDC – Summer Jobs program for granting program for covering a portion of the wages for the summer student position

Community Initiatives Fund for their generous support for the 2015 Astonished! Summer Literacy program

 

Photo:
Front: Tara Lazurko, Kennen Dorgan, Ryan Matheison, Corrie Van Burgsteden, Pagan Racette, Janet Davies, Megan Anderson.

Back : Jenna Petrosky, Rebekah Lindenbach, Judy Humphries, Paige Racette, Al Bhanji, Brittani Brescani, Ella McIntyre.

Missing: Kelsey Culbert, Kaitlyn Hoar, Avery Ottenbreit, Jody Mario.