Barriers, Challenges, And Opportunities To Making Friends

Each person has a unique definition of friendship and positive social relationship.

Some characteristics that are part of the definition of positive relationships include: interests or desire to participate; perception of each other as valuable; reciprocity. Friendships also have characteristics of intimacy and frequency. In order to have opportunities to have relationships, people must experience integration, inclusion, and proximity.

Stigma is often experienced by people with developmental disabilities. Overcoming stigma can be accomplished by encouraging people to contribute to others and take on other valued roles.

Everyone experiences barriers to relationships, but people with disabilities typically experience more and different barriers than people without disabilities.

To support friendships and relationships successfully you must start with the individual’s struggles.

Context of Relationships

– Friendship is a familiar but elusive term.
– Families provide things that friends cannot.
– Human Service Workers do things friends cannot do.
– Friends help people move beyond human service goals.
– Friends help people rehearse role.
– Friends serve as fresh role models.
– Professionals cannot program friendships.
– The quality of friendship differs among groups.
– Many aspects of friendships are mysterious.
– A healthy ebb and flow of friends may be more important than “best friends” and life time commitments.
– Friendships are reciprocal.
– Good friendships generate their own energy.
– A good friendship is noticeable.
– A good friendship can be attractive.
– Each friendship is unique and unrepeatable.
– Friendship become a haven from stress.
– Some people in authority may frown on friendships.
– Friends are no big deal.

Fundamental to all positive social relationships, and interactions are the following characteristics:

Interest/Desire – wanting to do things with each other.

Valued Roles – viewing each other positively. Believing you have something to offer each other.

Reciprocity – engaging in a positive give and take.

Without these three fundamental characteristics, relationships would not be considered “positive” because they would be one sided, and one person would lack value in the eyes of the other.

Stigma occurs when a person is viewed negatively by others because of personal characteristics or circumstances that are not culturally or socially valued.

Prejudice and bias are the root of stigma. Being stigmatized is the opposite of being valued.

-race or ethnicity
-the inability to speak English without accent
-physical disability
-mental illness

Friendship and Romantic Relationships also have the following characteristics:

Intimacy or closeness- a depth of feelings for each other that goes beyond just knowing each other. It means sharing with each other, and feeling close to each other.

Frequency – seeing or interacting with each other often enough to maintain friendship.

Without closeness, the relationship would not be considered a friendship. Without some frequency of interactions, the intimacy required would be difficult to maintain over time.

When you are supporting people in their relationships, remember:
It’s their definitions, not yours that matter.

Three (3) other factors also critical in influencing the quantity and quality of relationships:

1. Integration – being physically present in communities
2. Inclusion – participating fully in community life
3. Proximity – being physically close enough to others that it is possible to see, talk to, and visit each other

Obstacles to friendship occur in everyone’s lives.

Obstacles that are more likely to be experienced by people with developmental disability than for their same age peers include:

-lack of privacy – can mean lack of closeness
-inaccessible accommodations – such as limited mobility, communication barriers, blindness, or deafness, etc.
-previous negative experiences – due to segregation, stigma, and other negative social experiences, people with developmental disabilities may lack skills or confidence to initiate positive social interactions.
– Segregation

3 Categories of Barriers

Environmental and physical – things or objects that get in the way of people going to places, experiencing things, and communicating with others, so that they have fewer opportunities to make or keep friends.

Social and cultural barriers – ways in which people are excluded or avoided because of personal circumstances or characteristics that are not valued or understood.

Service and Program related barriers – ways in which the structure of paid services create stigma or reduces opportunities for developing relationships.

Sometimes, the things that keep us from making friends are just likes and dislikes, personal attributes, or individual styles. This attributes will vary from person to person, but they are neither right or wrong, good or bad.

In fact, personal attributes really aren’t obstacles to relationships at all, unless we keep placing ourselves into situations where they aren’t appreciated or noticed.

Your preferences should guide your choices.

Focusing on a person’s deficits and problems is not an effective way to find opportunities for friendship.

Focus instead on the following:

Strengths and interest – identify the activities or skills the person is good at or enjoys doing. Start small and build from there if needed.

Attractive characteristics – identify the attributes, skills, interests that others recognize as positive, engaging, desirable.

Personal goals – identify the person’s desires, wishes or goals for social relationships, activity or support.

Increasing dignity – provide assistance the person may need to reduce stigma and/or to make him/her more desirable to other.

Thinking creatively -focus on what will work for the person, NOT what is easy for the service or program to do.


About the Author: Nicetas Juanillo

Writing makes me happy away from home. My website is where you can find my tips about lifestyle, health and other issues. I also have books on my site that you can read to know more

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