Friendship between Adults with and without Developmental Disabilities

By Heyne, Linda A.; Green, Frederick P. | Parks & Recreation, October 1994 | Go to article overview

Friendship between Adults with and without Developmental Disabilities


Heyne, Linda A., Green, Frederick P., Parks & Recreation


Friendships between children with and without developmental disabilities provides a link between mere functional participation and full inclusion. Therapeutic recreation specialists have a history of success in promoting friendships between children with and without disabilities (Schleien, Fahnestock, Green, & Rynders, 1990; Rynders, Schleien, Meyer, Vandercook, Mustonen, Colond, & Olson, 1993; Rynders & Schleien, 1991; Heyne, Schleien, & McAvoy, 1993) by blending a carefully prepared strategy of intrinsic--those designed to make an individual more attractive and friend-like (Green & Schleien, 1991)--and extrinsic--those designed to make the environment more conducive to friendship development (Schleien, Fahnestock, Green, & Rynders, 1990)--strategies of friendship development.

The importance of friendship development between adults with and without developmental disabilities is of equal importance. However, as the nature of friendship relationships between adults differs from those of children, so do the obstacles to and strategies for friendship development between adults with and without disabilities. A review of the current research literature has uncovered obstacles to friendship between adults with and without disabilities, as well as suggestions for overcoming the obstacles, yet there seems to be very little substantial empirical evidence that strategies are effective.

Adult Vs. Childhood Friendships

Adult friendships differ from childhood friendships. Parent-child relationships are vertical relationships, and children learn that compliance with powerful others can bring about fulfillment of their social needs (Burhmester & Furman, 1986). As children develop, friendships with same-age peers replace diminishing relationships with parents. Children begin to develop the skills necessary to maintain relationships of equal power status. Children who learn to balance the skills of cooperation, compromise, and competition become socially accepted by peers (Youniss, 1980).

During adolescence, one's need for intimacy and companionship results in relationships with same-sex friends who are similar in age, background, and interests. These relationships are characterized by intense closeness, emotional sharing, and adjustment of one's behavior to meet the mutual needs of the relationship (Sullivan, 1953).

Adult friendship, a complex and seemingly indefinable relationship, appears to be a culmination of all skills and characteristics developed during childhood and adolescence. Additionally, these friendships are characterized by intellectual stimulation and social interconnectedness (Rubin, 1985), the ability to engage in skillful interactions (Howes, 1984), reciprocity in affection (Green & Schleien, 1991), and the ability and desire to share the responsibilities of developing and maintaining friendship relationships (Stainback & Stainback, 1987).

Rubin (1985) added that adult friendships have an enduring quality that is often lacking in children's friendships. Adult friends are expected to accept and grow with the changes that occur in the lives of their intimate friends.

Friendship: Adults with and without Disabilities

Research on friendships between adults with and without developmental disabilities appears to focus more on determining if such friendships can and do exist and identifying the barriers that are preventing these relationships from forming than on developing strategies for facilitating friendship and empirically proving the worth of these strategies. As such, researchers have concluded that friendship relationships between adults with and without disabilities are rare, often superficial replacements for friendship, and that difference in social perceptions and the complexity of the demands of adult friendship serve as major barriers to friendship development between these two groups. However, researchers are confident that such relationships are possible, and strategies have been suggested, yet not necessarily tested and proven, for facilitating friendships between adults with and without disabilities. …

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Friendship between Adults with and without Developmental Disabilities
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