Re: Disability? Or not?
Ian N Ford FRSH (addvent@DIRCON.CO.UK)
Tue, 9 Jun 1998 22:41:07 +0100
Swiming test ...
WHY is this such a big issue ? Some people are not happy in water ...
and the answer is go and do something else. I had problems with swimming
as a Scout, partly because I was asthmatic and cold water made me
hyperventilate. I did manage to pass the First Class swimming
requirement, as it was in those days, in a heated pool on a good day.
But I always avoided water activities.
At what point does " lack of confidence " or " fear of water " become a
disability ? It is not one of the disorders listed in DSM-IV ... although
if the kid suffered panic attacks or became depressed at his inability to
meet the expectations on him it might be. I imagine that some
psychologists might be prepared to say that the requirement was likel;y
to cause him undue stress.
Note also the other part of the exclusion clause, that of safety. The
post said that the kid had tried several times and each time had to be
dragged out. It sounds to me that it could be argued that such
circumstances represented a risk to the safety of the young man himself,
and to the rescuer who could get injured if the boy were to panic in the
water. My personal view is that the Troop Committee could use the safety
argument, and avoid the need for any discussion about " disability ".
A few months ago I was on a Stress Management course, training
professionals how to help colleagues and clients handle stress. The other
participants included charted psychologists, psychotherapists and social
workers. Over half of the participants said that giving a presentation to
a group caused them to experience physical and psychological signs of stress.
A lack of self confidence ? Maybe. The point I am making is that even
highly trained mental health professionals can experience stress in the
face of what others may see as quite simple tasks. I give presentations
for my job, I am a trainer with both BSA and UK Scouting, and I will
happily get up in front of an audience. I have absolutely no perception
of what it feels like to get in such a state that I could not eat or
sleep for two days before I give a small seminar presentation ... yet
that, on her own admission, is how it affected one adult mental health
professional. I doubt that, by definition, many swimming instructors know
what it is really like to have an acute, irrational but very real fear of
water. I also doubt that many Scoutmasters have the training to " treat "
such a problem ... at what point does " helping a kid to overcome his lack
of confidence " become the province of a trained and licensed psychologist
or behavioural therapist ? The point at which he breaks down in tears ?
Remember the thing they teach in SMF about " safe haven " and not allowing
hazing or bullying ? How much psychological stress is " acceptable " in
the interests of advancent and " building self confidence " , andwho
decides when the threshold is reached ?
I think that before we dismiss " lack of self confidence " as something
that can be overcome by repeated exposure to stress we need to be very
clear what we are trying to achieve, and what the risks are. If trained
therapists recognise the situations that cause them stress but find it
difficult to modify their behaviour, is it reasonable to expect a kid
to learn to overcome what is for him a very real fear.
Most of us have at least one irrational fear ... a fear of heights, a
fear of spiders, fear of the dark ... fear of water over our heads.
It may not be a " psychiatric disorder " or " disability " , but it can
certainly be a cause of mental and physical distress.
Not being able to swim does not, in my book, constitute a " lack of
moral fibre " or a reason to debar a Scout from advancing. I would say
he needs to do his best, and then if it really is a problem <for him> then
the Committee ought to use the discretion they have. And I personally would
opt for the " safety " clause rather that " disability "
Ian N. Ford DMS AIHE FRSH
Special Needs Adviser, Greenwich District Scout Council
District Committee Member, Mayflower District, Transatlantic Council
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City