This report explores a range of underlying factors which appear to motivate the social behaviour of adults with severe learning difficulties. While there is ample evidence to suggest that these adults often behave in ways viewed as unacceptable by the wider population a skills deficit approach to the issue is frequently adopted. This dissertation argues that this view is both over-simplistic and inappropriately judgmental and that the behaviours demonstrated often serve an important purpose in the lives of the individuals concerned. This research is located within a number of theoretical perspectives related to inclusion and the politicisation of disability, the development of personal and social identity and the acquisition of emotional intelligence. The study is focused on a group of adults with severe learning difficulties who attend a further education college in Northern Ireland. Data were collected by observation and interviews with students, college staff, carers, volunteers and other professionals. A number of salient themes have emerged. The perceptions of the student group are at great variance with those of carers and professionals, which suggests major communication barriers and the need for on-going reality checks for the students themselves and for those working with them. In addition, there is little awareness among the non-disabled participants of the extent to which the students’ behaviours are a response to their own expectations and actions. Interestingly, too, those students viewed as demonstrating the most ‘undesirable’ behaviours are the students who most want to be included in mainstream life. Finally, where a need for skills development work is identified, it is argued that this should take account of recent developments in emotional intelligence and attribution theories. A social skills model, involving learned acceptance of set rules, is not seen as acceptable. In addition, teaching staff are encouraged to view the gaining of student perceptions as an integral, planned part of their own teaching. Challenging professional attitudes and approaches to the delivery of programmes is essential for the development of good practice within educational institutions
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