Brenda meets Smokey Bear
(click to enlarge)
A billboard ad, meant to be viewed from a distance, affords Brenda a closer look.
Decorating a canvas room divider
Smokey Bear, as seen by Brenda
Brenda plays with Carol, Occupational Therapist, as Smokey looks on.

Brenda, a developmentally disabled woman in her 30's, had been a long term resident of the Wassaic Developmental Center. Upon entering the institution, she had been tested to determine the severity of her disability and had been found to be "severely and profoundly retarded", near the bottom of the I.Q. scale.

We had met Brenda as we were building an occupational therapy environment in the women's wing. One of the features of the room was a large picture of Smokey Bear, a billboard we had gotten for free from an outdoor advertising agency. The O.T. staff had noticed that Brenda was particularly fascinated with it and thought that it might be because of the scale of the image.

A few days later, while preparing to make a soft room divider, we had laid a large sheet of canvas on the floor for Brenda and her friends to decorate. One of the teachers noticed that she was coloring a big, brown figure and asked her what it was. She replied, "Smokey". The teacher reported this story to a staff psychologist who came by to see for herself because, at that time, an important part of the testing process was the ability to draw a human body, something Brenda had never been able to do - until now. How was this possible?

Referring back to previous tests, the psychologist concluded that a vision abnormality or poor hand-eye coordination had allowed Brenda to draw only a small part of a body on a letter-sized sheet of paper and that the large canvas had finally given her the opportunity to squeeze the rest of it into the picture.

Her evaluation was upgraded but who knows how much that affected her quality of life from that point on. It did, however, reinforce an old thought about creativity and the need to change your frame of reference once in a while as well as the value of challenging long held assumptions.

Growing Places