Friendships and Community Connections Between People With and Without Developmental Disabilities

Friendships and Community Connections Between People With and Without Developmental Disabilities / Making Friends: The Influences of Culture and Development

Heyne, Linda A

Integrated Book Review:

The books reviewed for this quarter were framed as an integrated review of the following:

Friendships and Community Connections Between People With and Without Developmental Disabilities. Novak Amado, A. (Ed.). (1993). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Making Friends: The Influences of Culture and Development Meyer, L. H., Park, H., Grento-Scheyer, M., Schwartz, 1. S., & Harry, B. (Eds.). (1998). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Friendship, no matter what one’s age or level of ability, is essential to a satisfying life. In recent years leisure services professionals involved in the inclusion movement have recognized the need for socialization and friendship for individuals with developmental disabilities. The term, inclusion, has evolved to imply not only physical participation in environments and activities by people with disabilities, but social interaction and community belonging as well. For all the inroads that inclusion advocates have made to involve people with disabilities in typical community recreation settings, however, building social connections and friendships remain a challenge. Many people with disabilities continue to feel isolated and lonely, and many leisure professionals are at a loss as to how to encourage relationships for individuals with disabilities.

These two books, Friendships and Community Connections Between People With and Without Developmental Disabilities and Making Friends: The Influences of Culture and Development, offer the practitioner two excellent resources for supporting friendships for people with disabilities. These books provide the reader with a deeper understanding of the nature of friendship, community, and culture in relation to people with disabilities. The texts also offer practical approaches for bringing people together and encouraging continued social contact and closeness. The content, value, and applicability of each of these two books will be reviewed here, in turn.

Friendships and Community Connections Between People With and Without Developmental Disabilities was born of a project directed by the book’s editor, Angela Novak Amado. This project, the Friends Project, was funded by the Minnesota Governor’s Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities to help alleviate the loneliness and isolation that many people with developmental disabilities experience. The Council sought “not merely to help [people with developmental disabilities] to be in the community, but to be part of the community” (p. ix). They recognized that friendships do not occur as a result of such standard professional activities as service plans, new technologies, or accreditation. Rather, friendships “are about interdependence, connectedness, equality, symmetry, give and take, support, unity” (p. ix). These are the concepts mirrored in this book, giving friendship an entirely human face and recognizing the magic and potential for growth that can emerge from human connection.

The book’s introduction, authored by Robert Perske, provides a list of insightful, down-toearth observations about friendship. Perske explores such themes as “friendship is a familiar but elusive term,” “friends can stretch us beyond our families,” “friends help people move beyond human services goals,” and “friendships become a haven from stress” (pp. 2-5). Perske’s thoughts set the context and tone for the discussions that follow by presenting important concepts about friendship in everyday, nonprofessionalized language.

The introduction is followed by three sections: Dimensions of Friendships, Stories of Friendships, and Strategies for Building Friendships. The first section, as the name indicates, is devoted to philosophical and theoretical perspectives related to friendship and the challenge of building relationships among people with and without disabilities. This section contains eight chapters, each authored by a different expert to address a range of issues. Topics include the effects of loneliness on one’s physical well-being, mental health, and behavior; formal approaches that “arrange” friendship versus the use of “natural pathways” to allow people (i.e., unpaid community members) to discover friendship; the dynamics between staff and the people they serve, which may allow for genuine friendship; and the roles of love, physical affection, and sexual expression in the lives of people with developmental disabilities. As a whole, these writings encourage the reader to look beyond formal human service systems to the use of very personal, perspective-taking, and normative approaches to friendship development.

The middle section of the book contains stories about many types of friendships. There is the story of Jane whose first contact with Mary Ann is through an “arranged” pairing, as an advocate. Over time, and through shared experiences, the relationship deepens and the two develop a mutual care and concern for each other. There is the story of Joe, who, after 16 years, rekindles his relationship with Jim and fights to free him from the institution where he lives. There is the story of Brenda and Don, who both have an intellectual disability, and their struggle for the custody of their young son. These and other stories speak to the subtle complexities of human relationship and of the importance of close, ongoing relationships for giving people meaning, support, and a feeling of acceptance.

After discussing the value of friendship and documenting the occurrence of genuine friendships between people with and without disabilities, the text offers practical strategies for building community relationships. An analysis of various approaches to support friendships between community members with and without disabilities is given. These approaches include one-to-one matching, the use of self-advocacy, a “Circle of Friends” approach to strengthen existing social networks, and the use of community “bridgers” or “connectors” who introduce people to each other who have the potential to become friends.

Principles and strategies arising from the Friends Project, noted earlier, is featured in an especially valuable chapter, Steps for Supporting Community Connections. Three basic principles are offered to guide the person who wishes to support community relationships for people with developmental disabilities: (a) act as if almost anything can happen, (b) start small-oneto-one, and (c) plan and implement based on a capacity-based view of the person. A common sense, non-linear process follows that includes four basic steps: (a) identify interests, gifts, and possible contributions; (b) explore and identify possible connections; (c) make introductions; and (d) continue to support the relationship. Each of these principles and steps is described in full, including many practical considerations for implementation.

No text, of course, can address all of the concerns of a topic as broad as friendship and people with disabilities, and this book may be criticized for the lack of attention it gives to the relationships of children and adolescents or to people who have disabilities other than developmental disabilities. While Novak Amado and her colleagues primarily address the needs of adults with developmental disabilities, many of the approaches are adaptable for younger people, as well as for people with a variety of disabilities. All in all, this text offers not only thoughtprovoking material on friendship, it gives many creative and exciting ideas for implementation by professionals and lay people alike.

In the field of therapeutic recreation as well as other disciplines in education and human services, an ongoing discussion persists regarding how to bridge the gap between research and practice. Making Friends: The Influences of Culture and Development, edited by Luanna Meyer, Hyun-Sook Park, Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, Ilene Schwartz, and Beth Harry, represents one such bridge. This volume includes a collection of research on children’s social relationships conducted by the Consortium for Collaborative Research on Social Relationships of Children and Youth with Diverse Abilities and other research groups invited by the Consortium to participate in a Working Conference held in Syracuse, New York, in 1994. A central theme of the book is how culture and development affect children’s social relationships-more specifically, how ethnic, linguistic, and other culturally related factors influence children’s interactions. As such, this book provides a timely contribution to the fields of therapeutic recreation and leisure services by addressing the important topic of culture in relation to socialization. Varying abilities are aptly discussed within the broad context of multiculturalism and diversity-in the words of the author of the Foreword, Concha Delgado-Gaitan, those who “share the same label: `differences… (p. xiii).

The book is divided into six sections, representing the work of 47 contributors. The first section addresses theoretical perspectives for studying children. The second, third, and fourth sections discuss social relationships during childhood, early adolescence, and adolescence to young adulthood, respectively. The fifth section contains reflections related to community belonging, and the final section recommends future directions for research and program development. Together, the book presents a scholarly, insightful, rich, and comprehensive investigation of the complex topic of culture and friendship.

Many interesting discussions of the subtle nuances of friendship are contained in this text. For example, the stories of seven culturally diverse families with children with disabilities are told. All the parents want their children with disabilities to have “normal lives”-yet the single lens of culture is not sufficient to bring the children’s lives into focus. Parents’ visions of “normal,” it was discovered, are best understood through the multiple lenses of culture, social class, education, language, disability, gender, immigration status, and the like. Other chapters examine friendship patterns and perceptions of friendship for preschool, elementary school, and high school students. Several issues are discussed in depth, including the issues of reciprocity, levels of friendship, the problem of “overhelping,” the nature of adolescent cross-ethnic peer relationships, gang culture, supporting friendship for deaf-blind students, and social relationships at the worksite.

Making Friends will also capture the attention of qualitative researchers in leisure services professions. The methodology of choice of the various research groups represented in the book was predominantly participatory research. Qualitative researchers will read with interest the discussion of the use of participant observation, collaborative research processes, empowering constituent groups, the use of community residents as participant observers (i.e., “hired hand research”), and how the participatory research method influences process and findings.

As valuable a resource as Making Friends is, not all readers may find it accessible. The text includes many scholarly references to previous research and discussion of research practices, which may intimidate some nonacademic readers. At the same time, the thoroughness and astuteness of the research gives the work credibility and may well inspire others to pursue their own research and program development activities.

In summary, these two books offer therapeutic recreation professionals, leisure services professionals, and community members two excellent resources for nurturing social relationships for individuals with disabilities. The texts complement each other well by examining friendship across the life span. Meyer and her colleagues address social relationships for children, youth, and young adults; Novak Amado’s book addresses friendships among adults. Meyer’s work also advances the knowledge of children’s friendships by exploring the important contemporary dimensions of culture and diversity.

In the preface to her book, Novak Amado writes that, when people discover her line of work, they often tell her they know a parent of a child with a disability or a teacher in special education. Occasionally people tell her there is a person with a disability at their workplace. She looks forward to the day when her work in relationship building will be outdated because communities encourage diverse personal relationships to the extent that strangers will tell her about their friends who have disabilities. These two resources will help both professionals and community members think about friendship in a different, broader way and to nurture those rich and diverse community relationships.

Reviewed by: Linda A. Heyne, Ph.D., CTRS, Assistant Professor, Ithaca College

Copyright National Recreation and Park Association First Quarter 2000

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.