Friendships and Social Life

The issues of friendships and social life are almost universal concerns among adolescents with developmental disabilities. Teens who are disabled are more dependent on their parents for many life activities than their typically-developing peers. This dependence extends to activities such as telephone use, friendships, social events, and leisure activities. All too often, the adolescent with Down syndrome is involved in spectator events with relatively little physical, social, or self-actualizing activity. As Roy Brown states so clearly, "It is essential that a stimulating environment with broad-ranging activities in leisure be increased over the years." (Brown, 1995, p. 46)

Brown goes on to say that some social activities and environments are more effective than others in promoting friendships. Political action, singing, acting, social dancing, special interest groups, and religious organizations provide excellent opportunities for friendship. On the other hand, many teens with Down syndrome participate in events that are less suitable for forming friendships: mall walking, shopping, spectator sports, and bowling. (Brown, 1999)

Needless to say, the type of activity and the setting selected also guides the type of friendships that may spring up. An adolescent with Down syndrome who participates in inclusive events, such as a religious youth group, will have more opportunities for friendships with typically-developing peers. A teen who spends time only in events or groups designed for individuals with disabilities will naturally make friendships within that group. Even within special needs settings, there may be distinctions between settings for teens with physical challenges and environments for adolescents with cognitive impairments. These decisions are highly personal ones, to be made by the teen and other family members.

Nurses who work with youths with Down syndrome can serve a valuable function by guiding teens and parents toward the environments that provide a chance to make friends. The nurse can also discuss the preferences of the teen and the family for inclusive settings versus activities for individuals with disabilities. Knowing the youth’s interests, strengths, and abilities, the nurse can share ideas about particular clubs or social events.

Social dancing, special interest groups, and religious organizations offer good opportunities for the teen with Down syndrome to make friends.