Friendships and relationships are usually the things that most people will say are important to them in describing their quality of life. Many people with learning disabilities however have very limited opportunities to meet and make friends. The people in their social networks may be family members, or people who are paid to support them.
This Irish study by the inclusive research network, a group of 21 researchers with learning disabilities, 12 supporters, and 7 university researchers, looked at what people thought about relationships and supports.
The network ran sixteen focus groups with people with learning disabilities involving 97 adults (52 women and 45 men) from across the country.
In the focus groups people were asked to comment on
- what makes a good friend?
- what they thought about having a boyfriend or a girlfriend,
- what supports they might need to have friends, a boyfriend or a girlfriend
They found that people had a wide range of experiences and views on relationships and the support needed to make and keep them.
The people taking part in the focus groups said they needed more support from friends, family, and services staff to develop new relationships and to keep their existing ones.
They said they needed more emotional support, particularly around their embarrassment about wanting a boyfriend or girlfriend.
They also wanted changes to service systems such as more accessible transport, their own housing so they can invite friends to visit and changes to the law. In particular they talked about the nature of the laws concerning sexuality and learning disability in the Republic of Ireland, and how the research team believes these laws need to be changed.
Relationships of people with learning disabilities in Ireland, Bane, G. et al., in British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 40: 109–122.
So good to see research into this key area of life for everyone. Sadly it does not appear in white papers or VPNow and the like as an area to be supported as with issues of growing older with a learning disability where relationships are just as key.
Thank you for the good and important work.
thanks for your kind comments. This research was actually carried out in the Republic of Ireland, but I think the results are just as relevant to the UK. It was certainly the experience of the BILD quality network that the area of friendships and relationships was one that came up in most reviews as an area needing attention.
Yes we agree this is such at important issue for people with learning disabilities. We run a Stars in the Sky Project which is a friendship and dating agency for people with learning disabilities in Worcestershire. People join as annual members and can book onto a variety of social events, including night club, pampering days, sports sessions, go-karting etc. People can ask to be chaperoned at their first few dates with someone they meet through Stars in the Sky. We also run friends and relationship training courses. We are hoping to offer free relationship counselling for our members shortly too.
thanks for your comment. As you know, the study was carried out in the Irish Republic, but I think ther findings would be generalisable to the UK and most european countries. Good to hear about the work you are doing through the friendship and dating agency and the possibility of relationship counselling. You will be aware that we have drawn attention to the effectiveness of a number of psychological therapies in our posts over the last year. You may also be aware of Sally Hodges’ excellent book on counselling for adults with learning disabilities which is set firmly in a psychodynamic framework but has lots of case study material in it, which might be a useful reference tool for the new service. Best wishes
Always been of paramount significance. Our son is acutely aware of his unequal status in this respect and lack of significant relationships is now impacting immensely on his life in every way. He is severely depressed and in this major economic crisis there seems little chance of bringing about any change on the near future. What to do? Judith
thanks for your comment. I wonder if any other of our readers have any thoughts or advice?
Our DVD pack “Getting Together” has been produced exactly to address the needs you have specified. Designed to support people with learning disabilities in making friendships and starting relationships, it illustrates some of the emotional and practical issues they may face.
We are a small, independent, not-for-profit co-operative and have made several resources for people with learning disabilities and those who work with them.
These are all available from us directly – through our website or simply email or phone. We can’t afford to advertise but our DVDs have been highly recommended by Mencap, Connect in the North, the fpa, CHANGE and other organisations as well as individuals who have learning disabilities themselves. The above organisations and many individuals worked in partnership with us to create these resources. All the voices on the soundtrack are those of performers with learning disabilities.
GETTING TOGETHER is a new animated DVD pack about friendships and relationships, for people with learning disabilities.
Watch a clip here: http://www.leedsanimation.org.uk/films/get_together.html
This is an animated short DVD pack, to support people with a learning disability and to raise awareness about problems they may face when making friends or starting a relationship.
The DVD shows how people with learning disabilities can enjoy friendships and sexual relationships without putting themselves at risk.
It is also designed to show care workers and family members how they can provide appropriate support.
The 13-minute DVD shows characters in different living situations who all have learning disabilities. Their stories can be seen singly or together, with/without subtitles or BSL signing:
. Erroll helps with the cricket club, meets people and makes friends.
. Gita, a wheelchair user with non-verbal communication, finds a friend at pottery class. They quarrel and make up again.
. Harry finds ways to meet other gay people, with support from care workers who help him look for a boyfriend without taking risks.
. Candice goes on a date and learns to say no to a pushy boyfriend.
. Jacey meets a man in a club, and nearly gets into trouble.
. Brett starts a relationship with Marie, and takes things one step at a time: they sort out contraception, get over arguments, and eventually decide to move in together.
All the voices on the soundtrack are those of actors with learning disabilities.
The resource pack includes an accessible booklet.
The film was produced by Leeds Animation Workshop, a not-for-profit co-operative. Consultants included Mencap, CHANGE and other organisations, relationship experts, and people with learning disabilities.
The project was funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and supported by Leeds City Council.
This DVD and many others are available on a non-profit basis directly from Leeds Animation Workshop, online or by phone: 0113 248 4997 [mob 07905142654] email@example.com http://www.leedsanimation.org.uk
Hello! Here at CHANGE we have produced a Sex and Relationship Pack which includes 5 accessible books on the topics of sexual abuse, sex and masturbation, safe sex and contraception, friendships and relationships & lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
The books were developed as part of our 3 year research project into the views and experiences of young people with learning disabilities around sex and relationships. The research was done by innovative drama work with young people with learning disabilities, interviews with parents, focus groups with teachers and a national survey of special schools. You can read the full report at
with an easy read version available here
The books encourage understanding of sexuality and awareness of safe sex and can be used to support open discussion about all aspects of sex and relationships either in a group setting or on a one to one basis.
Accessible information is a useful tool for people with learning disabilities, people who speak English as a second language or people who find reading difficult.
CHANGE is a leading national human rights organisation, working for the rights of all people with learning disabilities. At CHANGE we employ people with learning disabilities on an equal, living wage to produce accessible resources and deliver training and all of our profits go back into CHANGE to ensure we can continue our work.
The books are currently available on special offer for £25.00 for the full set (Till end of August) or as individual books priced at £6.99 each and can be purchased either directly through our website at http://www.changepeople.co.uk or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
thanks for your commment and the links to the resources the CHANGE produce on is this issue,