December eNewsletter

Building and Maintaining Friendships and Relationships (NADSP competency #13)

Interview with Michael Cunningham, Community Engagement Coach. Community Engagement Network Department

What does build and maintaining friendships and relationships mean to you as a staff member providing supports?

“So, when you’re coming in this field of supports, and you want to help the person you know build relationships, respect, friendships and relationships, you’re looking at how they communicate. [You’re looking at] how can [a person] communicate socially, verbally, and physically. And from there, you work on how they want to build a relationship. [Seeing if they] want to build with people at work, their neighbor, brother or sister, or any person they have an interest in and how to work on the ones they already have to make it better. [It means to help people] understand what trust is, what respect is…showing them and then watching them do it.”

What strategies have you used to help encourage and assist a person branch out and discover new friendships or relationships?

  • Strategies include looking at all relationships and looking at new ones that he or she may be wanting to develop. If they have a challenge in social relationships, we can do cue cards and we can do verbal stories from the app… For example, I’m going to this place so “how should I act” or “I’m going to the store, this is what they’re expecting and what I should be expecting”
  • If a person is socially challenged [may not talk] verbally, look [at] how they can communicate physically. And look how they can do it better or [find an alternate way]; whether they’re writing or using a laptop. Observing, listening, and putting things in place will ensure that communication is successful.

Tell us about a time you helped a person you support communicate with their friends and relatives.

One person I support named JR was communicating a birthday wish to his father. “He would just say, ‘give me’…so I would say, well let’s remember his birthday and give him a gift. What can you give him? So, Jeff would give him a piece of homemade pottery. Eventually he started giving out pottery to people on their birthdays after asking them first. It’s still him communicating, the way he does, now a better way.

Describe why you find helping people to develop relationships to be a difficult task. What could be hard for incoming staff to understand about it?

The difficult part in building JR’s relationships with his neighbors and his friends is that in the beginning he just went into the kitchen. He would just knock on the door, walk in the door without a hello, and go right to the kitchen. Now he engages in conversation. It was rough in the beginning, because he was learning how to socialize and build friends so that he was welcomed and not ignored. And by doing that, he’s more welcome with his friends in the neighborhood and his building because he’s saying hello first. He says, “Can we go get a drink?’ or ‘Let’s watch a movie’. It’s building relationships based on dialogue and open communication.

What advice and/or strategies would you tell a staff what he/she can do to support a person develop relationships?

Ask them first what do they want? Do they want friendships with people? Ask what do they desire? What do they dream? And if they don’t know what a desire or dream is, give them an example. Get to know them. See if they’re an introvert or extrovert. Some people are just “hello, hello, hello, hello, let me be the life of the party like Jeff.” …

Listen and learn about the person so that you can support them. Don’t come in with your books thinking “well I’ve had this before” or “I’ve done this”. Everybody is different. We’re not our diagnosis, we’re not our symptoms, we’re still a person with a challenge. Me and you, everybody, so see what they want.


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