An ethnodramatherapy presentation took place on 2nd October 2018 in Colombo with the participation of one hundred children and adults who are differently-abled. These participants were from the Special Educational Needs school conducted by the Sri Lanka Army (SERRIC). Dr Ravindra Ranasinha designed the presentation.
The ethnodramatherapy presentation had its emergence as a qualitative research. At the initial stage, the teachers of the SEN school were trained for six months, beginning March 2018. Dramatherapy games, role-playing, pantomiming, scene-work, and music and movement was used, to make the teachers familiar with dramatherapy. A very few students were brought for these training sessions, and they were quite apt to do the activities together with the teachers.
After a six-month training period, the teachers were mobilized to gather ethnographic data on the community’s wishes, expectations, thoughts, moods, behaviours, and likings. The teachers, as the primary data collectors, took a period of one month to accomplish this task. During this period, the teachers utilized qualitative data collection tools, such as, observations and conversations. Further, projective data through art, music, dance, song, and photographic images were collected. The autobiographical narratives, too, were treated as vital data.
The primary data collectors analyzed the data thematically. Four major themes emerged from this thematic analysis. The themes that emerged were Happiness, Cooperation, Love, and Hope. The results of the study were then highlighted through performance, combining music, drama, dance, autobiographical narration, song, and movement. Multimedia was used for projective data. Dr Ravindra Ranasinha did the script for this performance.
The SEN school teachers coordinated the action under each theme. They utilized their skills and talents to get the performers actively engaged, and an organized pattern was given for each theme. Getting the performers ready every moment was a challenge for them, as some performers did not oblige to act or present their data, verbally or non-verbally. It was with this challenge, the teachers took the lead to make maximum use of their skills and talents, to build the relevant themes colourfully and dynamically.
The aspect of inclusivity was one of the focus in this programme. Normal children from a nearby local school was invited to join this performance, so that the participants will have enhanced interaction. This has a socio-political relevance in developing inclusion of persons with developmental disabilities in normal school environment, to make them valued, accepted, respected, and normalized. The children from the local school were, at the beginning found it difficult to engage with the SEN participants. It took a while for them to adjust. Once the school children found it easy to move with SEN participants, the rehearsals had a smooth floor. The local school children engaged in communication, interaction, and was supportive to get the activities formed beautifully. One student informed: “I have never interacted with these kind of children. This is new to me”. Another student said: “They are very charming”.
This performance had a strong impact on teachers, providing them a model for teaching. Many teachers, prior to this research, remained focused on verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical intelligences, and catered to auditory and visual learners, using inadequate methods. The teachers said: “These children, though we try our best, have difficulty with linguistic and mathematical tasks.” It was a learning for the teachers to re-think on the teaching and learning process in the special needs school. This research revealed that the participants’ abilities and interests are not fully developed in a traditional academic program. Many aspects related to SEN were covered in this process: sensory integration, balance, eye-hand coordination, visuospatial function, kinesthetic strengths, behaviour regulation, creativity, emotion regulation, verbal responding, managing time and space, and learning to respond to a cue.
The presentation was a space opened for those with developmental disabilities to voice their needs. They were able to present themselves and feel the joy of being accepted by a large audience. One parent said: “I just wanted my child to be on stage”. Several other parents expressed the same view. It was an opportunity for the participants to feel encouraged, motivated, accepted, and valued. One parent said: “My daughter has the wish to become a bride one day. She was able to rehearse it on the stage. That’s like fulfilling her wish.”