Being Aware in Disability

Taking on an extra placement slot this semester has exposed me more to the world of adult disabilities. These are middle aged people from their 20s to 40s, who, if they had been in a body which functions according to social and cultural norms, would be holding jobs in society, earning a salary, contributing to the GDP of the country. As it is, the conditions they have make them unable to fit into society that way, and so they attend community/day programmes, with music therapy being one of the slotted activities. Among the goals for them are to encourage positive, appropriate social behavior like turn-taking, sharing, collaborating, to increase concentration and attention span, to hone decision-making skills, and to engage in self-expression with confidence.

What stuck me most about this particular group we worked with is the level of awareness some of them have. They are rehearsing an arrangement with percussion instruments, and these 2 extremely sweet girls, who can’t be older than their late 20s, were having some trouble coming in on time together. One of them would come in, while the other would not. Or both would come in, but one would be slightly faster than the other. At the end of the piece, “Ju” asked my supervisor slowly and haltingly: “Did I do well?” The question carried with it so much of need for validation and affirmation that my heart immediately went out to her. The other girl, “Ann”, chimed in: “I don’t think I did well” – just because she missed her entry – once.

I realise that to have a disability and not be aware of it is vastly different from having one and being aware that you are different. For these girls, they seem to know that they are different and that they will probably never fit into mainstream society, perhaps not in a socially-conventional sense. But in their seemingly simple world, in their own innocent way, through whatever means of expression they have, they try to make and find meaning in their existence – which sometimes could simply mean trying to sound the cymbal in time.

And again, I am humbled by the ones supposedly at the receiving end of therapy. Who’s really helping who here?

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