You know that friendships can make your child’s life richer and less lonely, and give them more support as they transition to adulthood. You also probably know that it’s harder for adults with disabilities and special health care needs to make and keep friends—especially after they leave high school.
You’ll probably need to stay involved in helping your child make friends as a young adult or adult, and it might take some work on your part as friendships begin. So how do you do that?
This page has ideas from other parents on where to start and how to take those first small steps. There are groups and programs your child might join, ways they can connect with others at a job, or creative ideas that you can try in your own community to help your child.
Friendships take many forms. There are meaningful ways that your child can connect with others that match their abilities and interests. It doesn’t always have to involve a lot of talking or communication with another person; it might just be spending time together. And there are so many types of friends – with or without disabilities, older or younger than your child, or someone with the same diagnosis as your child. Your child’s friendships might look different than you expect.
The parents we talked to had a lot of tips and ideas. You can:
It’s a good idea to ask any therapist, professional, or support person working with your child about ways to support friendships and connections. You can also visit our Groups, Services, and Events page to find out about different groups in your area.
Start small. Maybe with one outing or get together with another parent and young adult, or a short group activity. You can work your way up to more. And see what makes sense for your child and family.
As your child finds people they connect with, you can help them build and keep friendships. This might mean you are driving them to activities, dropping them off at a friend’s house, or going along. Or maybe you are asking your child about the friend, reminding them to stay in touch, or helping them figure out what to say to the other person. It might also mean letting them decide what activities they like and want to do, or encouraging them to try new ones. Especially if it’s something their peers like to do.
One parent talked about how her personal network helped her set up a group for young adults with disabilities and special health care needs in her community. They do an activity and go out to eat every week. It started with a few people but then grew to a larger group of more than 20 people with and without disabilities.
The parents involved support each other. They take turns organizing events and helping with transportation. They have also connected with local musicians and other community members who host classes and events. The group took on a life of its own with a little creativity and a lot of attention by the parents and young adults involved.
Here are some quotes from other parents about their adult child’s friendships:
“I’d say try everything you can to establish friendships as best you can. But also know that, if you have a child with lifelong challenges, friends may move in and out of their life.”
“I’ve learned that it was fine for [my daughter] to have friendships with other people with disabilities. They’re lifelong friends. I still encourage her to have friendships with people with typical development, but those are harder to form and keep.”
“Take little baby steps at a time. My biggest goal for [my son] is that he doesn’t object to doing a group activity. My next hope is that he can form some friendships individually too.”
Friendships, even ones you don’t expect, may develop on their own as your child has chances to spend time in the community and with other people. As a parent, you can learn when it’s time to take a step back so that your adult child can take the lead in a relationship. It’s sometimes hard and frustrating to help your child make friends as a young adult. But it’s also so rewarding to see your child make social connections, have fun, and expand their world.