Creativity and Self-Actualization

Over the past 100 years, society’s support of people with developmental disabilities reads like a hike up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. From institutions that were thought at the time to meet the basic physiological needs of food and shelter, to the reputed consistency and predictability of sheltered workshops, to focusing on developing healthy relationships through Circle of Friends and other programs, to personal achievement found in employment in the community, support has become more enlightened as society’s beliefs about people who have developmental disabilities have become more realistic. It is not surprising that people working to promote inclusion have started to focus on Self-Actualization, the peak of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Self-actualization, in the form of creativity, spontaneity, and problem solving, is a concept that should be woven into all the work we do in supporting people to live full and valued lives of their own choosing; it can also be addressed head on in projects that involve the creative arts.

Think about ways you feel self-actualized. It might be going to the opera; it might be meditating; it might be mountain-climbing. These are all activities that make people feel alive, feel human. They are activities where mundane worries go away and we focus on being in the moment, our senses and emotions intertwined. All people deserve to experience moments in their lives like these and we have a responsibility to make this so.

For many people, creativity in the arts is a way of finding value and meaning for themselves. Semiahmoo House’s annual Extravaganza demonstrates how the arts can have a deep impact on personal development and on the community at large. Having once had the responsibility of co-directing a high school drama production of The Breakfast Club, I can speak from experience when I say that the Extravaganza is an immense undertaking that requires collaboration between people with a diverse set of abilities. One of the things that makes a drama production so meaningful is this very teamwork: members of a cast must be open-minded and creative together for the project to succeed. Every Extravaganza I have attended (and I have attended every Extravaganza) has been wildly embraced by members of the community who make up the audience and has demonstrated achievement and self-actualization for the performers and production crew.

The fine arts make space for successful inclusion. Southridge School and Semiahmoo House have a long-standing relationship that involves the fine arts. Inclusionary after school classes that involve drama, sculpture, painting, and media arts have participants of diverse abilities creating together. In the classes, perceived differences disappear and labels become irrelevant. The only label that applies is “artist” and that is what you would see if you were part of the class: a group of like-minded artists creating together.

Creative Expressions

 Click to HERE to play

The fine arts classes echo one of the best things The Council on Accreditation witnessed at Semiahmoo House the last time they visited to gather evidence for their accreditation report: in many of our programs, they could not see who was the worker and who was the person being supported. They saw people working together with purpose but without hierarchy. Creativity allows for this type of relationship.

Being mindful of self-actualization and making space for artistic creativity supports inclusion and enhances the quality and richness of the lives of all people.

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Be Real with Social Media

Non-profit organizations such as Semiahmoo House Society that support people who have disabilities through programs and services face a dilemma: we have a responsibility to advocate for the people we support but we have little money to do so. Social media can play a part in resolving this dilemma if it is used in an authentic fashion. At Semiahmoo House Society we have been using Facebook pages and Twitter to share who we are, advocate for the inclusion of people who have disabilities, and promote events such as our Taste of BCs Finest evening. I have found that our social media posts get the most action and reaction when they feature people who are part of our organization’s community. A post about scientific research on autism engages 200 people; a picture of people we support and our staff playing Foosball engages five times that many. A recent video post to our Facebook page demonstrates how social media can be used to share who we are and advocate for the people we support in a fun and authentic manner.

On February 27th, Semiahmoo House Society, participated in Pink Shirt Anti-Bullying Day. Stephanie, our Director of HR, suggested we create a Harlem Shake video to promote our stand against bullying (yes, I realize that when over-40 social worker-type people start making Harlem Shake videos then the videos may no longer be hip…). On the morning of the 27th, we interrupted a managers’ meeting and in less than an hour had filmed, edited and posted Semiahmoo House’s Harlem Shake.

Within a day, the Harlem Shake Facebook post had received significant interest online (over 1000 views, which for us is pretty decent). It was being shared and enjoyed by people online—most views were coming from these shares, not from our Facebook page, demonstrating that people appreciated the video.
I loved the post because it did three things in a very authentic fashion:
  1. Allowed people to participate in a cooperative and creative endeavour at work
  2. Showed that Semiahmoo House values inclusion
  3. Demonstrated that people with disabilities are the same as everyone else.
I could make 100 speeches about inclusion and they would not have the power of this amateur dance video put together in less than an hour for free.
The good news for non-profit organizations is that they don’t need a big budget and a professional public relations team to get their message out and to advocate for the people they support.
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