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The value of friendship.

Everyone needs friends. If we want the people we love to be connected to others and a part of society as adults, we must think about their relationships when they are children. Their classmates and neighbors will grow into their co-workers and friends in later life.

Integrated classrooms and recreational activities are important first steps; in these settings, children with and without disabilities get to meet each other. But many parents have found that even though their child is integrated in school, he or she has few friends without disabilities.

People can establish friendships with one another, but it is not possible to create friendships between others. However, it is possible to create opportunities for people with and without disabilities to meet and spend time together in ways that encourage friendships to take root and flourish.


* Promote friendship. Family members can work for the total inclusion of their family member into the regular school system. In addition to being physically present, students with disabilities need adequate supports for the fullest participation possible. Necessary supports will vary according to the student and might be provided naturally in the classroom as well as through special means.

Parents can also ensure that their child with a disability takes part in a variety of integrated recreation and leisure activities after school hours - including walking home from school with the neighborhood children. A consistent physical presence in each others' lives is a necessary foundation for friendship to occur.

* Ensure valued social participation. How people with disabilities are supported within integrated settings is important. Students need to be able to participate as much as possible, and to do so in ways that other people will value and appreciate. People without disabilities need the opportunity to meet their counterparts with disabilities as peers, not as tutors or volunteers.

* Involve and trust others. All parents feel protective of their children. While there may be difference in how independent people ca become, parents can nurture that there are people in the community who would, if given the opportunity, enjoy and welcome a friendship with their son or daughter. Parents can have interesting activities at home and invite neighborhood children or schoolmates to play, or they can create opportunities for their children to visit and call friends.

* Be aware of barriers to friendship. The way in which support services are provided to people with disabilities and their families can enhance or reduce the opportunities for friendships to grow. By offering segregated programs, or by providing awkward support in integrated settings, the system dramatically lessens the chances for contact between people with and without disabilities. Even when integration is the goal, there can be problems.

For example, transportation from school often means that students with disabilities cannot take part in extracurricular activities. When efforts are made to bring people with and without disabilities together, the people without disabilities are often treated as volunteers rather than as peers. Family members can question such practices and work for change.


It takes effort to help people establish connections. Described below are some more formal ways that this has been tried:

* Bridge-building. Facilitators who initiate, support and maintain the relationships are often called bridge-builders, as they involve people with disabilities in existing groups or with specific individuals;

* Circles of Friends or Circles of Support. Groups of people who "meet on a regular basis to help a person with a disability to accomplish certain personal visions or goals." Circle members try to open doors to new opportunities, including establishing new relationships; and

* Citizen Advocacy. Recruited and supported by an independent citizen advocacy office, a citizen (advocate) voluntarily represents the interests of a person with a disability as if they were the advocate's own. Citizen advocates may take on one or several roles (e.g. friend, ally, mentor, protector) and some of these relationships may last for life.


While we cannot create friendships, we can create opportunities and remain open to the resulting relationships. With an awareness of and commitment to the possibilities, all people can have the opportunity to form relationships which allow them to live life more fully.

Zana Marie Lutfiyya is a research project director at the Center on Human Policy.

Networking is information from the National Parent Network on Disabilities. The Network is a membership organization open to all agencies, organizations, parent centers, parent groups, professionals, and all individuals concerned with the quality of life for people with disabilities.

Patricia M. Smith, Executive Director
COPYRIGHT 1991 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Networking: Information from the National Parent Network on Disabilities
Author:Lutfiyya, Zana Marie
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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