Choice is a buzz word, much favoured by politicians. We are continually being offered ‘real choices’! In learning disabilities, choice can be a difficult and complex thing, often linked to other ‘c’ words like ‘capacity’ and ‘consent’ These other ‘choices’ will be examined in further blog posts. But today I will be considering every day, common or garden choice.
When I first began working in the Health and Social Care sector 16 years ago, I very quickly became aware that many service users chose the same things. Of the nine residents in the first care home for adults with a learning disability that I worked in, ALL watched Coronation Street AND Emmerdale. In the next care home with three adults with a learning disability, again all watched Coronation Street and Emmerdale. In fact by the fourth and fifth place I worked in I had realised that it wasn’t just soap operas that all the service users watched, it was specifically ITV – unless it was Strictly on BBC1, obviously! So despite the ‘choice’ word being used all the time – it was a key area in the 2001 Valuing People white paper – I began to suspect that television viewing might have been more to do with the carers' choice, rather than the service users.
Call me a cynic if you will.
It was the same with music, cinema, theatre and shows. If I look through my local theatre’s programme of events, I can tell you exactly which shows all the people in my area with a learning disabilities will be at. Because it is a FACT that adults with learning disabilities ALL love Elvis Presley and Abba tribute bands! Yes they do. Also all people with Down syndrome are very happy and smile all the time – especially when they are taken to see Abba tribute bands!
Call me a cynic if you like.
I worked for 10 years with a remarkable woman, who had a mild learning disability. I thought that I knew her quite well – her likes and dislikes etc. By chance one day in my car I put on a classical music programme. Almost immediately she began humming along to a Beethoven piece. I asked her how she knew it, and she said ‘oh my Dad used to play it on the piano. I love that sort of music’. I had had no idea. I began to take her to see some classical concerts – which she loved, especially pianists. She recognised a piece of music one time as coming from Swan Lake – I asked her if she had ever seen a ballet. She hadn’t, so we went – she loved that too. I asked another carer if she would like to accompany this service user to the ballet – ‘Ballet? – bally awful more like’ she said.
Call me a cynic if you must.
I was guilty myself of limiting this service user’s choice. Not knowing a great deal about classical music myself, I generally suggested well known pieces of music, thinking that she would not enjoy more modern and perhaps challenging composers. In fact it was me that struggled with modern classical music. When at one concert there was some Benjamin Britten and Peter Maxwell Davies, she turned to me with shining eyes and said ‘I could have listened to that all night’.