When I asked Kenny and Duncan how long it’s been since they met, they looked at each other for a long time. With a scratch of the head they turned back at me and said “ uh, basically our whole lives”. Talking to these two, it’s obvious they have nurtured a friendship over the years in which they support each other and lift each other up.
It hasn’t always been like this though. Like many of us know from our own experiences, their friendship has been through its share of ups and downs. Even these days, while they get to see each other most days at work, or at Special Olympics (they are both soccer superstars), they don’t always get a chance to hang out (although both will tell you that’s because they are spending lots of time with their girlfriends).
Friendship is a vital part of life. In fact, the more social connections we have the more likely we are to live a long and healthy life. Lack of social connection can have the same impact on our health as smoking 15 packs of cigarettes a day.
In order to build strong friendships we need both the skills to create connections with other humans, and the opportunity to meet others and visit regularly with them to build bonds. Folks with intellectual disabilities are often missing one or both pieces of this equation.
Over half of individuals with intellectual disabilities experience social isolation, compared with only 15-30% of the general population and up to a third report having had no contact with friends in over a year.
But it doesn’t need to be this way.
Sexuality and healthy relationship education programs, like My Life My Body, are about much more than just sex. Sexuality is about a deep understanding of self and how we relate to others in the world. It is about our need for human connection.
Sexuality education programs help individuals live their lives to the fullest by helping them understand ...
Their bodies, their values, and what makes them special
Social boundaries and how to interact safely with others
Appropriate touch that is safe for them and others
The kinds of relationships they can have in their life and how to nurture them
The skills needed to build lasting friendships including how to be approachable, meet new people, resolve conflicts, and plan friend outings
And much more
Whether we are family, caregivers or support staff we all have a role to play in ensuring that the individuals in our lives have the skills and the opportunities to build the friendships and relationships that will support them thrive.
Be an ally. Talk to the individuals in your life today about their social life. What do they want and crave? Looking for tools to better support them to reach their goals?
Learn more about how to support your loved ones and clients to build friendships with the Make a Friend, Be a Friend resource below.
Visit the online workshops page for more resources and supports
Teach the skills of likeability with these tips form Dave Hingsburger and team at Vita Community Living.