Article by Ricki Sabia, senior education policy adviser at NDSC
Communication Rocks!!!! Just ask Pia, an active self-advocate with the Positively Speaking workshop series! Initially, Pia spoke in a whisper, looked at the floor and struggled with initiating conversations both socially and at work. Now, after being in the Positively Speaking workshop series, she makes direct eye contact, stands tall with open shoulders, speaks clearly and loudly and with communication confidence. Pia also demonstrates leadership skills and takes initiative at home and at work. She has become experienced at public speaking (considered a phobia by many), delivering speeches at the Down Syndrome Network of Montgomery County (DSNMC) Step Up Walk and on Capitol Hill!
Do you want to help teens and adults with Down syndrome have a great social experience while learning to communicate with confidence at school, in the workplace, and in the community? If the answer is yes, you should attend the conference session called "DSAIA Award-winning Affiliate Teen and Adult Program: Use the Arts to Build Communication Skills!!" The DSNMC teamed up four years ago with ArtStream Inc., an organization dedicated to community inclusion and self-expression through the arts, to create a drama-based communication workshop for self-advocates ages 16-40 and their peers, as well as a concurrent event for parents. This session will provide information and demonstrations so that you can create your own workshops!
A key ingredient is the use of drama-based games to warm up before the self-advocates work on the information they each want to share related to the topic for that workshop. Recruiting excellent peer mentors for support and an inclusive experience is another critical component. While the teens and adults are busy with their peers, the parents are invited to attend a meeting where they share information with each other, as well as hear presentations on issues such as transition, independent living and employment.
This program has exceeded expectations! The self-advocates, who have a wide range of communication abilities, have become more confident and skilled at expressing themselves, including with Members of Congress! Families of teens and adults became active affiliate members again. Parents learned tips and information for navigating the world of adult services. Peers learned about the competencies of individuals with Down syndrome. Friendships blossomed. Self-advocates gave speeches at DSNMC fundraising events, which allowed family members of younger children with Down syndrome, professionals, and policymakers to learn about the dreams and accomplishments of the self-advocates.
Adrian, another self -advocate, has become a sought after public speaker and board member. He already had strong speaking skills but says that the workshops helped him improve. Steve, did not start out with as strong skills as Adrian. He struggled to answer questions and people had difficulty understanding him. Today his skills have improved to the point that he is confident at interviews and is able to provide prospective employers with the information they request. Succeeding at the workshops does not require strong verbal skills. Will, who has very limited verbal intelligibility has increased his confidence, and improved his social skills with peers. He got up on stage and spoke at our Step Up Walk even though he only used a few words.
So many stories to share! We encourage you to create your own communication workshops and help self-advocates achieve communicative competence and confidence!