Friendships in teenage years

Annette Bertram and Sue Buckley

Abstract available shortly

Bertram A, Buckley SJ. Friendships in teenage years. Down Syndrome News and Update. 2003;2(4);148-148.

doi:10.3104/dsupdate.198


In the last two issues, we have published articles on progress in teenage years and, in both, the findings have highlighted the need to support the development of friendships. Most children with Down syndrome seem to be well included and to have friends during their primary school years, but friendships in teenage years can be more of an issue. A letter recently received from Aimee Bertram's mother and my reply to her illustrate this issue. It highlights how well Aimee has made the move into secondary school but also her mother's growing concern about her range of friendships.

Annette Bertram's letter

"Aimee is enjoying secondary school immensely and has made new friends. The school has 1600 pupils - a far cry from the village primary school she attended from the age of 4 which has less than 200. She auditioned for a part in the school play and the teachers said they had to include her for her obvious enthusiasm!

Aimee and friends at primary school

Aimee and friends at primary school

She sings in the school choir (again what she lacks in melody is made up for in eagerness!) The physical size of the school is fairly daunting  - I can't find my way around, but Aimee's friend told me the other day if she's ever lost, she asks Aimee saying "Aimee knows her way around the school like the back of her hand!"

We have not heard of any incidences of bullying as yet, in fact quite the reverse. I have noticed many of the pupils, from all years saying hello to her. The work is differentiated very well so that homework is within her capability/understanding. She has a different LSA for each subject which also works well.

Aimee at secondary school

Aimee at secondary school

On the downside, Aimee has developed a couple of imaginary friends. She acknowledges they are imaginary, but to me it indicates that she may is feeling a little isolated socially. I would really like for her to have some friends with special needs but I'm not sure of how to go about this. If you've any ideas I would be grateful".

Sue Buckley's response

"On the imaginary friends front, this is quite a common issue with more than half – probably some 70% of teenagers and adults either talking to themselves at times, engaging in solitary pretend play and talking at the same time, or actually having imaginary friends. We do think it reflects some degree of loneliness but it is also an emotional release at times, so is best accepted. Content of the talk can be about events that have worried the person and the sort of things they might well share with a close friend if they had one.

I am just writing a brief piece on friends and strategies to increase them in Down Syndrome News and Update, and I will be asking for ideas from families that have worked. Some families have organised activities such as swimming and going to MacDonalds for three or four teenagers with Down syndrome from different schools by working with the other parents. Some have invited other teenagers for sleep-overs or family supervised activities rather than organising a club – one local group of parents keep a drama and dance group running for the children from local mainstream schools and brothers, sisters or friends. The Mencap or similar 'all disability' clubs may be rather daunting to someone who has not been in special school. It is clear to us that this is an area where we still have to work at the issue as parents – also secondary schools need to be asked for some imaginative solutions as the teenagers themselves will have ideas about how to include those with disabilities if asked to think about it.

I am hoping that we can run this as a topic for exchanging views in the way we are doing on bilingualism as we have had correspondence following our article in the last issue".

We need to share ideas on two issues:
  • increasing friendship opportunities in and out of school with typically developing peers, and
  • increasing opportunities to meet peers with similar levels of learning disabilities for those in mainstream education.

Please send us your ideas and experiences as we will have a feature on friendships in the next issue.