Many observers see that individuals who live with developmental disabilities are exceptionally concerned about pleasing people that they perceive as “important or influential.”   At times, visitors, who do not have a disability, are overwhelmed by their reception when they first attend Special Gathering.  Part of that reception stems from the perception that these visitors are more important than their peers. 

Within psychological circles, this is called “associative power.”  That is, you will be perceived as a more powerful person if you associate with powerful people.  One of the best examples of the ugliness of associative power is found in the Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast.  The bully who is trying to woo Belle has a friend who obtains all his power from being the buddy of the bully.

At Special Gathering, we have found that many of our members have shed this drive for importance by associating with other people that they perceive as influential.  They have forged true and lasting friendships with their peers.  Here are some ways that we have worked to make this happen.

  1. Recognize the problem.  Observe how your members treat a person who is perceived as a peer and how they treat a person who is perceived as “normal.” 
  2. Identify the issue with our members.  Once you have seen there is a difference in their behavior, address the issue with your members.  This can be done a) person to person, b) within a small group, c) within larger group settings.
  3. Don’t encourage this behavior. 
  4. When a new member comes, assign several members to mentor them.  In this way, you will be saying, you are a person of importance and you need to be a friend to others. 
  5. Encourage and foster friendships among your members.  This can be done by giving verbal encouragement to your members who are friends.  It may be a simple statement, “Laurie and Annie are such good friend.  That is a good thing.”
  6. Whenever you informally associate with one of your members, try to also invite one of his friends.  Going dutch out to lunch is fun.  When you invite George, also invite Melvin.
  7. Speak often about your ministry program being a safe place for all the members.  Explain that everyone who attends should not worry about being intimidated or becoming the object of ridicule

Yes, these are simple steps but they will work.  Whenever you deal with this issue, assure your members that your goal is to help them know their worth in Jesus.  

Have you found this is a issue your members fight?  What are some of the ways you have helped them to face and overcome the issue of “associative power”?