‘You’ve got a friend in me’ – Celebrating Learning Disability Awareness Week

Posted: 15/06/20

A collage of photos of badges, friendship bracelets, cards, and colouring books.

Teams at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) have been sharing some of the ways that people with learning disabilities can maintain their friendships during these difficult times.

This year, Learning Disability Week takes place from 15-21 June and is focussing on the importance of friendships during lockdown.

Friendships are important for everyone’s wellbeing, but people with a learning disability already experience higher levels of loneliness and social isolation than most people, and especially during the Covid-19 ‘lockdown’ over the last few months.

Friendships help us to feel happier and less lonely. Experts also think that having more and better quality friendships helps us to stay physically healthy as well.

Occupational Therapists in the Newcastle Community Learning Disability Team have developed a friendship-themed resource pack for the people they work with. Here’s a few activities to try from the pack:

The Good Friend List

List some things that make someone a good friend. For example, they share things with you.

  1. ________________________
  2. ________________________
  3. ________________________
  4. ________________________
  5. ________________________

That’s Me!

List some of the things you might have in common with your friends:

  1. Our favourite meal is ______________
  2. Our favourite place to visit is ______________
  3. Our favourite sport is ______________
  4. Our favourite animal is ______________

Make ‘compliment cards’ with a few words of kindness for someone about why they’re your friend. Cut them out and give one to them.

At Rose Lodge, the team will be talking about films depicting friendship with patients in the ward social group, then voting on which one to watch for their ‘movie night’ on Friday.  Their Wednesday book club will be looking at stories about friendship, and there will also be a craft session making friendship flags and decorations for an afternoon tea on Thursday.  Tim, their ‘Music Man’, is supporting patients to write a song about friendship in his sessions throughout the week.

The Children and Young People’s Service Learning Disabilities team in Newcastle and Gateshead have also been helping people to stay connected with their friends by supporting them to send texts, make phone calls and set up video chats. They have also encouraged people to write and send cards and small gifts to their friends. These included some ‘pocket hugs’ made from craft paper; colouring books and pens; and sweets and badges.

a collage of photos of the service's staff holding up placards which form the message: "We are all in this together; we've been supporting children and families to stay connected during lockdown. #LDWeek2020 CNTW."The Children’s Learning Disability and Behaviour Support Service in Cumbria have been supporting children’s parents using video conferencing, to encourage them during difficult times. They have also sent out resource packs for parents to work through with children, such as stories about friendship and activities to do with their friends remotely.

If you need more ideas about fun ways to stay in touch with friends, learning disability charity Mencap have created a pack to help you make a ‘friendship flag’ which shows all the things you like or miss about your friend. You could then show the flag to your friends on a video call, hang it up at home, or share it on social media using the hashtag #LDWeek2020. You can download the pack on Mencap’s website.

Our teams are encouraging everyone who knows someone with a learning disability to help them to stay connected with their friends during this difficult time. They hope that their ideas will help to inspire other people.

Eva, daughter of one of our team members, has even recorded a song in British Sign Language to help encourage us all – and help us learn some useful new signs to let people know ‘you’ve got a friend in me’!

The Newcastle Community Learning Disability Team have shared some links to other useful organisations which can help people with a learning disability to meet new friends:

  • National Autistic Society online pen pals – a discussion forum for autistic people, their families and other wider networks. It’s free to join and a great way to share experiences and advice.
  • Luv2meetU – a friendship and dating agency for people with a learning disability or autism aged 18 and over – are now offering alternatives to face to face events to help stop people feeling isolated, and ensure members are active, able to learn new skills and feel part of a community.
  • Friends Action North East – an organisation which aims to help adults in the North East of England with learning disabilities to make friends and socialise.