Suddenly Mary’s group lost momentum. What happened? Her teaching room was just right, cozy and cool with mostly bare walls and one picture pertinent to her Bible study and a few objects on the table. And the room had incandescent lights because one student has seizures. Mary felt God’s presence with the group. Her Bible study had always been relaxed and fun, but suddenly everything seemed to fall apart. What happened? A new student with autism entered the group, and the dynamics had to be re-formed.
Mary set out to find out what happened. She thought it wasn’t that he was autistic, yet that did enter the mix. She reviewed what she knew about social thinking – that most people are hard-wired for social thinking from birth and they intuitively go the phases of observing and acquiring social skills as they learn to respond to people around them. Many students with disabilities such as autism or other challenges are not hard wired that way, and have difficulties in learning and applying social information. They have difficulty reading the emotions, intentions or point of view of others. This becomes a challenge for them and an opportunity for a savvy leader who wants them to become comfortable in a group.
What Processes Are Going On Here?
Mary set out to find out more about the simple yet complex process that enables integrating and re-forming of groups when a new person with or without a disability or when a new leader appears. Although some groups take a long time, her group quickly moved through the processes.
Mary discovered two group dynamic processes that helped: 1) the effects of personal relationships in groups and 2) the stages of development for a group.
David Asks Questions
Mary’s new student, whose name turned out to be David, looked for safety then inclusion, then some control, and then affection. When David came to the group he was probably, consciously or unconsciously, asking himself questions that define personal relationships in groups:
- Who else is here?
- How do I relate to them?
- What is their intent, and do I trust them?
- Does it matter that I am here?
- Will what I say be listened to?
- If I can’t talk, will they look at body language or provide a way for me to communicate?
- How can I contribute to the group?
Mary learned the three group’s relational developments – inclusion, control, and affection – and was able to quickly recognize the fluctuation of behavior when new persons entered her Bible study. She discovered her major importance as the leader, enabler of good behavior and the person who knew that the group was reverting back to a different stage when a new person appeared. Her group became so welcoming that reverting to another stage was hardly a blip on the group screen.
The Group Asks Questions
When David arrived, the group also had to go through stages of development that they had used before, and they have questions. Who’s in charge? They went to look back to the teacher or leader for control. Am I still important? They wanted to show their muscle to define themselves. Are you willing to be one of us? Finally, they assimilated the new person and moved on to work cooperatively.
Mary then reflected on the comfort zones of group development that included dependence, reaction, and integration, and she learned some skills for using them to her advantage. She was relieved to know that all these dynamics occur simultaneously, and that her group could move quickly through all of them.
Mary also discovered that parents of a new student are the first line of establishing the trust of the student.
Parents Ask Questions.
Will my child be safe? Will my child be accepted and cherished? Does the leader know how to deal with his disability? Who will be my child’s mentor, and when may I meet them? What are the safety rules? What will happen in an emergency?
An emergency information form on file and locked up becomes very important. Parents need to know the safety and drop off and pick up rules. At first contact, parents may want to stay to observe interactions, a good idea at first, but later, the parent may need to stay away to give the student a chance to adjust and bloom independently. Discourage a parent who wants to become a part of the teaching team, rather give them time to do something on their own.
Cultivating a dynamic that gels a group
A group that “gels” is one where everyone has a personal and a group comfort zone.
Help a non-verbal student know that the group wants to understand them and values what they have to say. Supply paper and pen or a picture board or a sign language interpreter. If none of these is available at the moment, take time to ask questions that can be answered yes or no, or let the group do charades as a way of sharing. A group learns respect from the leader, so taking this time and affirming the answer is important on several levels. Unintelligible verbal students also deserve respect and time to be heard, and, following the lead of the leader, the group will sit quietly listening for a long time. In prayer circles, everyone senses that God understands this unintelligible prayer. Some students will not be able to come to a prayer circle or hold hands in a group to pray, but they will parallel pray or sense the holy flow. Wow!
Most groups are formed around working cooperatively on a hands-on project such as art or drums or doing an assigned task for the group. If a person feels approval, he can encourage and cooperate with other members of the group. At this point in a group’s development, it is possible for persons to express their personal struggles because of the trust relationship that has developed.
Social fear or sensory overload may force a person to sit apart or not participate when, in fact, the student may feel part of the group. An understanding group will not try to force that person to participate, but will recognize and appreciate his or her presence. Apartness may fluctuate, and it may reflect medication change, an earlier in the day incident, or just plain fatigue.
Let’s remember the Christ sitting in the midst of the group.
Let’s remember that His group of disciples was made up of persons with differences in gifts.
Their belief and disbelief, and their understanding of what being a disciple meant
was dug out of the earth a little bit at a time,
and in the end, meant something different to each person.
Find More Details About Group Dynamics Here:
PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS IN GROUPS
Stage 1 — Inclusion. When we join a new group we wonder: Who else is here? To whom do I want to relate? Will I be able to say what I want to say? Can I trust people with what I am going to say or communicate in another way?
Non-verbal persons want to know that they can find ways of expression. Or if they do not want to express themselves they need to know that it is okay, and they can still participate in the group.
Practical application: NAMES ARE IMPORTANT! DEVISE A GROUP WELCOME SHOUT. TEACH YOUR GROUP TO SAY, “HI. MY NAME IS _________. WHAT IS YOURS?”
Stage 2 — Control. Each person in the group wants to have some influence on the direction the group goes. They want to use their own ideas and have questions listened to and answered. Some persons with disabilities have less than efficient communication skills, so they must find a way to extend influence even if only for a moment.
Practical Application: TEACH THE GROUP TO TAKE TURNS LISTENING OR SIGNING. USE STORY BOARDS AND PICTURES. ASK DIFFERENT STUDENTS TO ASSIST IN LEADERSHIP AND ERRANDS. A STUDENT MAY TRY TO CONTROL THROUGH JUST GETTING ATTENTION IN ANY POSSIBLE WAY (I’M SICK, SOMEONE SAID SOMETHING BAD, I NEVER DO THAT ART WORK, ETC.) LEARN DIVERSION METHODS OR HANDLE IT IN SUCH A WAY THAT IT DOES NOT GET ATTENTION AND INTERRUPT THE GROUP. FOR HEAVY DISRUPTION, HAVE TWO MENTORS REMOVE THE PERSON TO ANOTHER LOCATION. SOME GROUPS HAVE A CALMING CORNER WHERE A PERSON LEARNS TO GO WHEN HE/SHE GETS OUT OF CONTROL.
Stage 3 —Affection. We have affection for the group when we have a cognitive and emotional sense of comfort and feel that others accept us and we accept them. Now a group begins to gel.
Practical Application: TAKE TIME TO BE PERSONAL AND DISCOVER HOW A PERSON CAN PARTICIPATE. USE GIFTS AND TALENTS. MEMBERS ARE MISSED WHEN ABSENT, SO LEAD THE GROUP IN THIER WELCOME BACK SHOUT. PLAN ACTIVITIES BEYOND VERBAL THAT ENGAGE STUDENTS ON A PERSONAL LEVEL. TRY SPORTS, EATING, DANCING, DRUMMING, DRAMA, ETC. MAKE BIBLE STUDY SENSORY.
STAGES OF GROUP DEVELOPMENT
Stage 1 —Dependence – The group depends on the leader for direction. In the midst of other stages, the group may look back to the stage of dependence when they see they are off track, but this is often momentary.Groups are most comfortable with only one leader in charge. More than one leader giving group directions can be confusing, and repeated directions over and over can cause sensory overload. This rule applies in team or project teaching, but the leader may temporarily hand comfortable authority to a member of the leading team.
Stage 2 —Reaction – An adult or teen group normally goes through a struggle for who will be dominant or in control. A persons may reject the group and go off to sit alone, and a student, because of sensory overload or other disability related issues, needs to sit separately, and it has nothing to do with control. There may be struggle for election. Election is not a vote but an exchange of, “I’ll show you my stuff.”Prepare for negativity by learning about and appreciating individual gifts. Plan socialization activities that use as many students in leadership as possible. In this stage, an adult or teen group may need to review behavioral rules.
Stage 3: –Coordination – The group gets over the second stage. Members accept responsibility for the group and selves, and they learn to work together, take turns, and assist each other occasionally. Help students recognize and respect the gifts of others. It is okay to be who you are!!
Stage 4 – integration – This is a mature phase where members grow, and change attitudes and ideas. Individual interest moves to welfare of group. A group cannot move to considering the welfare of others or the welfare of groups in the community until integration takes place, and the group feels like family, and they take care of each other. A group gels! It is comfortable, reassuring, and social.
The Circle of Friends logo is a circle of stars with the name in the middle. Beneath the circle it says, “Where everyone is a star.” Every student takes this seriously. Look for the gifts of every single student, and they will think of themselves as A STAR!