Valuing the place of young people with learning disabilities in the arts

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Methodologies of embodied learning, radical pedagogies and applied drama offer a lens through which to investigate the empowerment of young people with learning disabilities in Northern Ireland, thus counteracting more traditional, disempowering methods. According to Helen Nicholson, the “participatory, dialogic and dialectic qualities as effective and democratic ways of learning” (2005, p. 38), which advocates of applied drama expound, encourage interactivity and collaboration that is at the same time active and critical. Transformative inquiries involving action, where people change their way of being and doing and relating in their world, is based on practical knowing-how. Having the right practices in place is thus essential in engaging young people marginalised by traditional modes of learning. This paper charts the course of a group of young people with learning disabilities using theatre to explore ways in which they can express the emotions and dilemmas they face in transitioning from young people “participating” in their world to more actively engaging in arts leadership roles. A comparison is drawn with Swedish models of disability arts, which tend towards a relative or weaker social model of disability—more akin to the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Impairment than the one we are used to in the United Kingdom—which I argue is more suited to inclusion of young people with learning disabilities. Questions of facilitation, co-creation and participation are examined in light of this comparison.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)238-255
JournalChild Care in Practice
Issue number3
Early online date20 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished online - 20 Aug 2015


  • Participation
  • Learning Disability
  • The Arts
  • Theatre
  • Facilitation


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