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The Normalization Principle And Its Human Management Implications

From: Changing Patterns in Residential Services for the Mentally Retarded
Creator: Bengt Nirje (author)
Date: January 10, 1969
Publisher: President's Committee on Mental Retardation, Washington, D.C.
Source: Available at selected libraries

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The Normalization Principle


In an earlier section of this book I have described some observations and reactions upon visiting public institutions in the United States. I will now attempt to describe the theoretical perspective from which my reactions to my observations stem.


My entire approach to the management of the retarded, and deviant persons generally, is based on the "normalization" principle. This principle refers to a cluster of ideas, methods, and experiences expressed in practical work for the mentally retarded in the Scandinavian countries, as well as in some other parts of the world. The normalization principle underlies demands for standards, facilities, and programs for the retarded as expressed by the Scandinavian parent movement. The papers by Scandinavian contributors Bank-Mikkelsen and Grunewald in this monograph provide specific descriptions of functioning programs which incorporate normalization principles.


To discuss human endeavors to create wholesome programs, facilities, and life conditions for other human beings in terms of one unifying principle might seem preposterous, especially when the mentally retarded are involved, a group which is characterized by wide variations in age, degree of handicap, complicating physical and emotional disorders, social backgrounds, and educational and personality profiles. Nevertheless, in the Scandinavian countries, a general principle which expresses the aims, attitudes, and norms implied in quality work for and with the mentally retarded has been found of value. As expressed by N.E. Bank-Mikkelsen of Denmark, this principle is given in the formula "to let the mentally retarded obtain an existence as close to the normal as possible." Thus, as I see it, the normalization principle means making available to the mentally retarded patterns and conditions of everyday life which are as close as possible to the norms and patterns of the mainstream of society.


This principle should be applied to all the retarded, regardless whether mildly or profoundly retarded, or whether living in the homes of their parents or in group homes with other retarded. The principle is useful in every society, with all age groups, and adaptable to social changes and individual developments. Consequently, it should serve as a guide for medical, educational, psychological, social, and political work in this field, and decisions and actions made according to the principle should turn out more often right than wrong. Some of the many facets and implications of the normalization principle are discussed below.


1. Normalization means a normal rhythm of day for the retarded. It means getting out of bed and getting dressed even when you are profoundly retarded and physically disabled. It means eating under normal circumstances: sometimes, during the span of the day, you may eat in large groups, but mostly eating is a family situation which implies rest, harmony, and satisfaction. A normal daily rhythm also means not having to go to bed earlier than your peers because you are mentally retarded, not earlier than your younger sisters and brothers, or not too early because of lack of personnel. Facilities must also give consideration to the individual's need for a personal rhythm, allowing him to break away occasionally from the routine of the group.


2. The normalization principle also implies a normal routine of life. Most people live in one place, work or attend school somewhere else, and have leisure-time activities in a variety of places. Consequently, it is wrong when a retarded person, for example, has his training classes, his structured therapies, and his recreation activities in the same building that serves also as his "home." Of course, even when vocational activities are conducted in a special building, it is not satisfactory if this consists only of a few hours of low-motivated activities for a few days a week. Activation of the mentally retarded, which is all-important, must convey the experience that the daily work routine has vigor and meaning and, consequently, fills a proper part of the day. The afterwork satisfactions of leisure-time activities, whether they are for pure relaxation and fun or have more personal, educational implications, may sometimes take place in institutional or special settings, but for habilitational purposes, use should also be made of the facilities of the regular society, thus lending these activities realism. With wider experiences and proper social training, the retarded thus will be able to use the normal leisure-time facilities of his society on his own, and also learn to cope with unprepared, unstructured situations without panicking (Avedon, 1967; Chigier, 1967; Nirje, 1967).


3. Normalization means to experience the normal rhythm of the year, with holidays and family days of personal significance. Most people change their life situations and refresh their bodies and minds at least once a year by going on vacation. In Scandinavia, travel, including travel abroad, has proved meaningful and valuable even for the severely and profoundly retarded.

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