The Struggle for Narratives

I was supposed to working on a website – but I just thought I’d pop onto twitter and I can’t remember how, but I ended up on Chris Hatton’s blog, reading an article about Identity and people with learning difficulties.   Its very good and as ever Chris raises some very important questions about the struggle that people with severe learning difficulties and their families have in trying to help develop and hold on to the narratives that are integral to identity.

Like Chris I agree that it is in the context of family relationships where our personal narrative and identity is often at its richest, but I also agree with Neil Crowther whose (much shorter article ) focused on the importance of the home as the ‘scaffolding of the self ‘ and whilst it is easy to conflate the two I believe it is very important that we don’t. Home and family are often synonymous and in almost all of the cases that I am aware of the family is a person’s greatest support and champion. But it is not always the case and we should never presume that the only curators of a person’s living and evolving narrative are their family.

Practitioners play a profoundly important role in the lives of people with learning difficulties . Yet they are increasingly being portrayed as the bad guys and don’t get me wrong I could write a book about what is wrong with the system and there are a good number of people working with disabled people who really shouldn’t be. But most do their jobs perfectly well, in what are often very difficult circumstances and some are truly remarkable people without whom the lives of families with learning disabled children and adults would be untenable. And in the context of this article, practitioners play an important role in the development and evolution of a person’s narrative and identity .

Whilst the home might be where a narrative is at its richest, both of the young adult’s with learning difficulties that I am closest to, represent themselves differently to different people in different contexts. I may understand my son’s idiosyncratic use of language, symbol and context better than many, but the place and setting for my understanding of that narrative, has always been the home and the family. I have no real insight into the stories and meanings that he co-constructs in other places and with other people. And as his father I may not be the first to realise, when it will be time for home to become a different place.

Families will often play an important role in nurturing a person with learning difficulties’ identity, but that role should and hopefully will change over time and person centred approaches which support a multitude of narratives and stories are best placed to support that process of development and change. The challenge is making sure that in the struggle for narrative and for identity it is not the views of parents or practitioners that predominates but the person at the centre of the circle.