We see lots of different people every day. Some are closer to us than others. For example, we are usually very close to our family and friends. We talk with them and share our thoughts and feelings. We might not be as close to our neighbors. We might smile or say “hello,” but not even know their names.
Here are some of the people we see every day:
Paid Supports: A paid support is someone you pay to provide you with a service (doctors or dentists, grocery clerks, barbers or beauticians, bank tellers, mechanics, etc.). You may know some of these people very well. Others, you may not know at all. As a direct support professional (DSP), you would fit into this category.
Acquaintances: Acquaintances are people that you recognize. You may wave or say “hello” when you see them. You might not know their names. They might be neighbors or people you see at the bus stop.
Group Members: Some people belong to the same clubs or groups as you. These may be people that you see at work or school. You may enjoy doing things with them in the group or at work but not see them otherwise.
Friend: A friend is someone that you like to be with. You enjoy talking to this person and doing things together.
Family: Family includes parents, sisters, brothers, cousins and other relatives. Some people are very close with their family. Some people do not see their family very much.
Close Friendships and Romantic Relationships: Some relationships are very close. Close relationships develop when two people love each other and like to spend time together. You can have close relationships with many people. Some close relationships involve romantic feelings.
Most people can name someone in their lives for every type of relationship that we just listed. However, people with developmental disabilities may be able to name only paid supports as friends. As a DSP, your challenge is to help the individuals that you support develop a variety of healthy friendships and relationships.
Everyone likes to have friends with whom they can talk and have fun. Without friends, we feel lonely and sad. As a DSP, you have a very special relationship with the people that you support. You share many things with them. But you are a paid support—not simply a friend. You can help individuals that you support to socialize and make friends, but you should not be the center of their social lives.
When an individual has no one else in his or her life, you become that person’s only source of connection. This is a big responsibility. When you are not around, they will have little social life. If you leave for another job, they will feel very sad. They may find it hard to trust another staff member.
Helping individuals that you support to make other connections can help them rely on you less heavily. If the individuals that you support have friendships and family relationships in their lives, everyone wins!
People with developmental disabilities can face many challenges in meeting and getting to know others. To meet new friends, a person usually needs to get involved in activities outside of their home. This can be challenging for individuals with developmental disabilities. Some need help to find activities that they enjoy. Others can attend activities outside of their homes only if family members or supports go with them. They may need assistance because of physical, mental or emotional issues. Some can go out by themselves, but need help with transportation. Any of these factors can make it hard for individuals with developmental disabilities to meet new people and develop relationships.
There is no set program or formula for starting a relationship. Friendships typically grow out of shared activities and interests. This is true for all of us. However, as a DSP, there are many ways for you to create opportunities for individuals that you support to meet new people and develop friendships.
Here is a step-by-step approach.
You can also use your own skills to help build a community. Connecting individuals with developmental disabilities to others in their communities is easy for some DSPs and difficult for others. We all have community connections. We can use these to assist the people we support.
Think about your own relationship network. Set aside one staff meeting to brainstorm and write down all of the community connections you and your co-workers have. You can never tell when one of them might match an interest of someone you support and lead to an opportunity for developing new friendships.
In your role as a DSP, you should be able to recognize the signs of healthy - and unhealthy - relationships. This will allow you to help the people you support find and sustain their own healthy relationships. Healthy friendships and relationships depend on communication, sharing, respect and trust.
The most important part of any healthy friendship or relationship is the ability to talk and listen to one another. Talking and listening helps people to:
Healthy friendships and relationships also mean learning to respect and trust each other.
Here are some signs that a person can use to know if they have an unhealthy friendship.
|Being In a Healthy Friendship Means:||Being In a Unhealthy Friendship Means:|
|The person feels good about themselves when they are with their friend||The person doesn’t feel good: their feelings are hurt or they feel sad or upset around their friend|
|There’s an equal amount of “give and take” between the person and their friend||The person and their friend only talk about the friend|
|The person feels safe around their friend||The person is uncomfortable with what their friend says and does|
|The person trusts and respects their friend||The person’s privacy is not respected|
|The person wants to spend time with their friend||The person feels like they have to spend time with their friend|
|The person can be themselves around their friend||The person acts differently around their friend|
|The person goes to places and does things both people like with their friend||The person only goes to places the friend wants to go|
There are also signs that you can use to tell that someone you support is in an unhealthy relationship.
|Being in a Healthy Relationship Means:||Being in an Unhealthy Relationship Means:|
|The person takes care of themselves as well as the other person||They focus only on caring for the other person, or, They only focus on themselves and ignore the other person|
|The person still does things with other friends, family or on their own||They have to explain what they do, where they go, and who they see|
|The person shares in decisions with their partner||One of them makes all the decisions|
|The person and their partner respect each other's need for privacy||The person doesn’t have any private space and has to share everything with the other person|
|The person and their partner share histories and life stories with their partner||Their partner hides a problem from the person, or vice versa|
|The person and their partner treat each other with love and respect||The person or their partner uses verbal, physical, or sexual violence|
|The person and their partner talk through problems or get help if they can’t work things out||One or both of the people yell, hit, shove or throw things|
Unhealthy friendships and relationships create many problems. They don’t get better by themselves. A really bad relationship can make someone feel mentally or physically ill.
If someone you support is in an unhealthy friendship or relationship, you can help.
Friends: A Manual for Connecting Persons with Disabilities and Community Members
This manual suggests ways to help people with disabilities to develop friendships and relationships. Amado, A.N., Conklin, F., & Wells, J. (1990) Available from the Minnesota Governor’s Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities, 300 Centennial Office Building, 658 Cedar Street, St. Paul, MN 55155, (612) 296-4018
Inclusion.com: A resource of books and videos about inclusion in school, work and community
Healthy Relationships and Safe Sex: Tips for Self-Advocates
Prepared by Joe Meadours, a self-advocate from Alabama and Executive Director of People First of California, with research and editorial help from Reena Wagle, Ph.D., Human Services Research Institute. 2006. For copies contact the Human Services Research Institute, 7420 S.W. Bridgeport Road, Suite #210, Portland, OR 97224; 503-924-3783; www.hsri.org
Friendships and Community Connections between People with and without Developmental Disabilities
Descriptions of successful experiences and principles that help others build relationships through social connections. Edited by Angela Novak Amado and available through Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., P. O. Box 10624, Baltimore, MD 21285-0624.
Last updated on April 6th, 2010