Making Friends Using Person-Centered Practices

By Patrick Lane

One of the best things about being a person is having friends.

Some of us have a lot and others have a few, but we all need friends. Yet so many of the people we support have lives marked with loneliness and isolation. Often anxiety, depression, overreactions, and even health risks are rooted in not having at last one or two good friends.

Along with helping people balance Important To with Important For and using common language instead of “disability-speak”, Person Centeredness is about helping people with disabilities with the essential human need of building friendships. The question that follows seems to be: How do we do that?

There is no textbook answer, but here is a good way to get started: simply list the steps you take in your life to make friends. After all, Person-Centeredness is just “human stuff” broken into smaller pieces so others can know where to help and in a way that is appreciated.

Helping people with disabilities works much the same as how you would like to be helped.

For me, I like to meet people with common interests. Once I’m in a setting with those folks, I may strike up a conversation with someone. If that goes well, I’ll ask for their number. Later I’ll text or call and plan a time to get together with my new friend and possibly others. The friendship may grow or fade, and it’s likely that I’ll connect with others and begin making more friends.

If someone were helping me, they would simply break those steps down and add support where needed. This could be done by arranging transportation, making purchases, helping me understand what is being communicated, or respecting the group’s social norms. That being said, I wouldn’t want the person helping me to take over or make my decisions, and I’d only want help where it’s needed. If we differed on how that someone would help me, we’d keep negotiating until we found a way that worked.

The process of making friends will differ from person to person. Navigating this process will go hand-in-hand with properly gauging where help is needed and how much help to offer. This is worked out with some trial, error, and learning.

You should record what you learn in a Learning Log, so when someone else comes along to help later the same mistakes won’t be repeated. You may find that you don’t know what kind of people they prefer to be friends with. To resolve this, people who support should look at current or past relationships. Refer to their Relationship Map to see what personality traits are shared among those who are close to the person.

If we are willing to try, we can help people with disabilities escape loneliness, and isolation and the negative effects that follow. If we are willing to learn, we really can help make someone’s life better because we helped them make real friends. And after all, one of the best things about being a person is having friends.

Down Syndrome and How You Can Help


About Down Syndrome

Down Syndrome, also known as Trisomy 21 or Down’s, is a condition in which a person has an extra copy of chromosome 21. This extra chromosome causes a wide range of different abilities, including both mental and physical challenges. According to the CDC, some common physical features of Down Syndrome include a flattened face, a short neck, poor muscle tone, small hands and feet, and shorter height in both adults and children. Down Syndrome is the most common chromosomal abnormality in the United States, occurring in around 1 out of every 700 babies. 

History of Down Syndrome

Down Syndrome was first discovered in 1866, when physician Dr. John Langdon Down identified a group of patients who shared similar characteristics. More research was needed, and in 1959, scientists finally traced the condition back to a chromosomal abnormality. In 1965, the WHO officially recognized this condition as Down Syndrome. 


Recent Advancements

As medical professionals begin to study Down Syndrome, more information becomes available regarding similarities within people living with the condition. For example, researchers are learning people with Down Syndrome are predisposed to certain medical conditions, such as congenital heart defects, sleep apnea, and an early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. More research is crucial to understanding the effects an extra 21st chromosome can have on the body.

How You Can Help

As you support people with Down Syndrome, here are some helpful tips for providing the best level of care that fosters independence, growth, and positivity.

Always use people-first language. People-first language, also known as people-centered language, refers to a style of speaking and writing that places a person first in a sentence, before their diagnosis. For example, one should say, “a person I support with Down Syndrome” rather than “a Down Syndrome person I support”. Check out the National Down Syndrome Society’s Preferred Language guide here.

Plan for transitions. People with Down Syndrome often struggle with everyday transitions and can greatly benefit from warnings and preparation. Prior to starting a new activity, remind those you support what to expect and when to expect it.
Stay positive! Remember people with Down Syndrome can, and do, complete just about any task they set their minds to! Work with those you support on meeting their goals, reminding them you believe in them.
“Nothing about me without me.” Never make a decision for someone you support without being sure to include them in the conversation. People with Down Syndrome want to be, and should be, included in making these decisions for their lives.


Some suggested ways of celebrating National Down Syndrome Awareness Month:

Make a donation to the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). Your generosity will support this organization as they work to enhance the quality of life for those living with Down Syndrome. Learn more about how donations are used here.

Share information on your social media page. Awareness is crucial for the Down Syndrome community! Share facts, Buddy Walk registration information, and photos with your friends.

Register for a Buddy Walk. The NDSS hosts Buddy Walks across the country with the goal of promoting understanding and acceptance. Many of these walks take place in October and are a great way to raise funds and awareness for a great cause. Click here to see a list of upcoming walks across the country.


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