CliniKids is a not-for-profit centre integrating world-class research with a clinical service for children with developmental delay and/or an autism diagnosis, and their families. It is the first of its kind for autism in Australia.
One of the unique aspects of CliniKids is the integration of clinical services with cutting-edge research. Our exceptional team of researchers work in collaboration with our clinicians to give the community access to the world's best evidence-based therapies.
In this blog, Speech Pathologist Linda Arabi discusses the social model and how it influences the supports we provide to autistic children and their families.
What is the social model?
The social model is a framework that seeks to change society to be more inclusive and accommodating for all. The child’s condition is not what is disabling, but rather, the barriers that exist within that child’s environment. These barriers, which can often occur at the same time, include attitudinal, physical, and policy barriers (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). For example, an attitudinal barrier may include stereotyping that people with disability have a poorer quality of life than people without a disability. A physical barrier may include beaches without accessible matting, making access to the water with mobility equipment inaccessible. A policy barrier may include denying individuals with disabilities access to particular programs, services or opportunities.
A social model perspective does not deny the reality of difficulties nor its impact on the child, but rather, challenges the environment to accommodate as an “expected incident of human diversity”, with an estimated 16 per cent of the global population (or in one in six of us) experiencing some form of disability (People with Disability Australia; World Health Organisation). The social model vouches for all types of brain development (neurotypes), and thus, sees autistic brains as normal and naturally occurring variations in the human population (Jaarsma and Welin, 2012; Reser, 2011). The social model is now the internationally recognised way to view and address ‘disability’, according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
A solutions-focused approach
The social model looks at solutions to what may have been thought of as a ‘problem’ by the historical medical model, through removing barriers to accessibility. The table below reframes the focus on impairment through the medical model (or what a child or person cannot do), to a social model solution.
Medical model problem
Social model solution
Challenges with understanding and following verbal instructions to complete a routine
Having access to visual supports to break down instructions into smaller, achievable steps and to serve as a point of reference
Challenges with engaging in reciprocal conversations about non-preferred topics while making and maintaining eye contact
Having access to a communication partner who validates preferred communication methods and who may share similar interests
Acknowledging that there are different communication preferences and no one way is favourable
Having access to a community who accept and acknowledge stimming as a self-regulatory behaviour
The social model at CliniKids
At CliniKids, we are guided by the social model to inform the way we work and to protect the rights of the children and families we support. We value working collaboratively with children and their families to identify barriers and propose solutions towards reducing or eliminating those barriers, to encourage full and equal participation in society.
We use a strength-based approach, in which we look for opportunities to “complement and support existing strengths and capacities” (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development). We look at writing functional goals with you, with the ‘real-life’ change we want to work towards at the forefront.
A new lens
So instead of the starting point being what a child or individual cannot do, let’s reframe this, and ask ourselves, ‘how can we adjust the environment to support accessibility, inclusion and equal participation?’. By doing this, we are working towards re-arranging a society that is problematic, not the child or individual.