The following are key ideas for creating situations that may make connecting with others a greater possibility for people. It is likely that you will need to be intentional in assisting someone to get to know others and be known by them, especially if communication is challenging.
Start with the person
The most natural way we make connections with others is through the common experiences and interests that we share. It is easier to communicate with people we feel a natural affinity with around liking and enjoying the same things. Discovering and exploring your family member’s interests and passions is the starting point for finding people they could naturally connect with. Once you have identified particular interests he or she would like to explore you can investigate where other people gather to pursue those same interests.
Mapping the community
A detailed exploration of your local community is likely to uncover a range of opportunities for people to come together. Remember that community is not just about the obvious buildings such as sports, leisure or community centres but is about the myriad of groups that may meet there. For example a community centre may run yoga classes, book clubs, cooking classes and walking groups. Local councils and libraries often have information about what’s on in town. An internet search can also provide local information. Nowadays, there is often an interest group meeting face to face or online about anything you can think of.
Frequent and regular attendance
Irregular and one off attendance rarely results in getting to know people in any setting. Regular and frequent contact over time gives people the chance to move beyond a superficial acquaintance to getting to know someone they know they will see again. Moving from regular attendance to being a member of a group strengthens people’s perception of the person’s commitment to the group and they are more likely to invest time into getting to know someone.
Shared experiences in smaller settings
Smaller groups engaged with a shared task or common interest are more conducive to ‘breaking the ice’ and getting conversation started or becoming more acquainted. Larger groups like sports events, the cinema or concerts generally don’t allow for growing connections, even if you are a regular attender. Smaller groups encourage greater intimacy and help people relate as individuals, not as members of a crowd.
Adult Recreation as a Bridge to Friendship CommunityWorks
The power of a positive introduction
It is important for people to see the person first and not their disability. The language and imagery used to introduce people is really important in establishing positive engagements with people. Sharing about your family member’s interests, skills and importance to your family sets the tone for a positive appreciation of who they are as a person.
Creating Personal Portfolios Dr Paula Kluth
Encouraging natural support
Everyone relies on natural support at different times and at varying degrees throughout their life. Consider who you call on to get some advice, think through a problem or get practical assistance for a job you can’t do on your own. You are likely to call on family, friends, colleagues, neighbours or friends of friends, depending on what you need. People are not paid to offer you this support but they do it because of your mutual connection. The assistance is just a natural extension of what they might already do because they have some expertise or experience around the situation.
A person with disability is more likely to be included in community if natural supports are encouraged around their participation. This means everyday people extending a welcome and offering to assist the person join their group. This is often more sustainable and certainly more typical of participation in community then considering that only paid support can facilitate an individual’s inclusion. This in no way suggests that many people will not need paid support to assist them in their daily lives but highlights the importance of facilitating typical members of the community to take a natural role in supporting an individual to expand their connections with people.