A few years ago, Speech Language Pathologists Kelly Offutt and Julia Donovan were approached by some of their students, who were hoping to gain more opportunities to eat lunch and socialize with other girls from across their program. They noticed that because there are fewer girls than boys at Ivymount, and they are often split up across classes, girls didn’t get much time to interact with other girls.
“They were really outnumbered,” says Kelly. “I think these groups give girls the opportunity to feel accepted and that they belong, and I think they get the opportunity to form relationships that will hopefully last well into their transition to adulthood. I don’t think that without special opportunities, girls with developmental disabilities always have that chance.”
The groups started as an informal way of bringing girls together to hang out, watch videos and talk. But they evolved into something more focused and intentional. Kelly and Julia wanted to hear from families and students about their social experiences and goals, and what they wanted out of the group, so they set up an Ivyshares project. Ivymount’s IvyShares program awards fellowships to staff and teams who undertake a special project beyond their job description that helps students and families and provides leadership across Ivymount and the greater community.
The goal of their project was to create a framework and materials for structuring social groups for adolescent girls with developmental disabilities, based on input from girls and their families. The SLPs interviewed the girls and their parents about their goals for friendships and socialization, challenges they face, supports they find helpful, and what they want from a group. They’re now working on a research article about their findings and have presented them at national conferences.
Increased Collaboration with Families and Staff
Research opportunity aside, feedback on the groups from the girls has been incredibly positive. The girls have developed friendships and initiated their own group chat to keep in touch outside of school. One student says, “I like group because I get to … spend time with other girls so I can get to know them better and become friends with them if they want to be friends with me.”
Several recent sessions focused on planning and organizing social events, including outings in the community. Additionally, based on input from families, Kelly and Julia collaborated with the Mental Health and Occupational Therapy departments to create sessions on female hygiene, health and self-advocacy. They plan to continue expanding these groups across programs and student profiles.
Read more about Ivymount’s IvyShares Program.
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