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Maeda-Fujita, Chizuko. (1990). Understanding Mentally Handicapped Children. Unpublished Dissertation Edmonton: University of Alberta.



< Abstract >

The main purpose of this study is to seek ways to understand mentally handicapped children as they are as unique individuals. The two dominant perspectives on special education, the traditional and the social perspectives, fall short of seeing mentally handicapped children “as they are” since they focus on either their differences from non-handicapped children or the commonality between handicapped and non-handicapped children. Thus the fundamental question of the research becomes how to see sameness and difference in order to understand the experience of mentally handicapped children in their lifeworlds.


Lifeworlds of mentally handicapped children are explored in the form of “stories” based on my own experiences with these children, mainly because the form of story allows us to tell about particular events, particular experiences, and particular individuals in concrete situations. This epistemological concreteness of story is methodologically appropriate for the study, since as pedagogical research the study seeks to understand each child as a unique individual in his or her particular situation. The phenomenon of difference and the experience of each child are explored in the various stories through the topics “finger play,” “eating,” “smiling,” “self-talk,” “seeing and listening,” and “don’t touch me.” An effort is also made throughout the stories to see sameness through difference so as not to over-emphasize either sameness or difference.


In the endeavor of understanding experiences of mentally handicapped children by means of stories, it is suggested that intersubjectivity is a particularly meaningful dimension of children’s experience. That is, experience becomes meaningful by being lived in a shared context. Intersubjectivity also suggests the reciprocal nature of understanding. These themes of contextuality of meaning and mutuality of understanding make all the more significant and responsible our place as teachers and parents in the lifeworlds of children.


As to sameness and difference, it is proposed that what is needed is an understanding of the dialictic between individual difference and collective difference in order to understand mentally handicapped children as they are and to help them become themselves, to help them form their own identity.