A Right to Friendship

What do you look for in a friendship?

Someone to trust with your secrets, going to parties, laughing, chatting, dancing with and making exciting plans together? This is the list my wonderful friend Isabella gave me as her favourite things about friendship.

This inclusify post is all about companionship. Combating loneliness is something a number of charities are currently trying to do, but mainly for elderly individuals. This is so important because social isolation can lead to health complications, both mental and physical.

A less addressed topic is loneliness for individuals with diverse learning needs and abilities. My co-writer today is my lovely friend Isabella, who would like to share her experiences around friendship and her transition from school to college. Bella is a 17 year old student and has a brand new part time job in a digital marketing company called Brainlabs; she also has Downs Syndrome.

Quote saying 'sometimes the greatest gift you can give another person is to simply include them'

A lot of people have admitted to me in the past that they do not know how to approach individuals with diverse learning abilities and this is mostly due to a lack of exposure. In my opinion there is one very simple thing you can do, and that is talk to that individual as you would anyone else out in public, at school, at work and so on. People who happen to have disabilities want to and CAN contribute to society to the same effect as anyone else through relationships, employment and in an abundance of other ways.

We have all experienced a time when we’ve approached someone and were rudely dismissed, or happened to notice a subtle eye roll. Just because someone has a neurodiverse condition doesn’t mean they won’t notice, or feel the same way you did in that moment.

Sadly, Bella has had first-hand experience of extreme unkindness as well as the positive friendships she has now. She has agreed to share her stories with me to help me gain awareness for this topic.

She tells me ‘girls bullied me at [my old school], they kicked me [and it made me] sad when people hurt me.’ In the past, people have ‘[called her] names, [but she tries to] focus [on something else] and ignore them [as much as possible even though it still] makes [her] sad.’ Isabella used to attend a mainstream secondary school where sometimes other children would ‘laugh at [her] work [and] call [her] names.’

At Bella’s old school, she ‘didn’t have friends’ but now she ‘likes [her] new college because [she has] lots of friends.’ She is really ‘happy with them and [looks] forward to college to see them and [her] teachers.’

Now Isabella is in a more inclusive environment with kind friends, she ‘knows more social skills’ and feels more confident. Her friends and teachers have given her encouragement to take part in extra-curricular activities such as ‘swimming, boccia, basketball, youth club’ (which she attends with a school friend) and many more after college clubs in which she tells me she has made lots of new friends.

To the right is a photo of a medal Isabella won for a swimming competition that she wanted to share!

Isabella’s mum, Eunice, has kindly offered her thoughts:

A photo of the medal Bella won
Open speech marks

As a parent myself, one of the most difficult things to live with is the loneliness and isolation our young people with disabilities feel.

There have been far too many times when I have walked past the school, and seen my daughter sitting on her own at lunchtimes, whilst groups of girls are all engaging with each other, not aware of my child sitting alone. It never fails to break my heart!

Bella is a very happy, sociable child who would have loved to have been included! School became a real problem, with bullying and exclusion from all things that young people like to do, eg: at the end of term when everyone goes to McDonald’s or out for something to eat, to parties, on outings etc. Bella, and all other girls with special needs were never invited!

My particular heartache is during the school holidays, when I see other young people out and about with their friends and Bella is also not part of this, it is something that makes me wonder why?

Is it fear, lack of understanding? 

Will Bella and those with disabilities be a hindrance?  Or, maybe, an embarrassment to be seen with them?

I do know that, not only Bella, but all children, young people and adults desire to be included and be like their peers and to be able to enjoy life like everyone else!

I am thankful every day for wonderful people like Elle, who does, and wants to make the world inclusive for all with disabilities! Thank you for seeing Bella for who she is and not her disability!

So next time if you meet a person with a disability, just say hello and talk to them!

You will be pleasantly surprised!!

Close speech marks
Quote saying 'in a world where you can be anything, be kind'

Kindness also extends past ability – regardless of age, gender or nationality, even if someone is shy or very enthusiastic, no one deserves to be excluded.

Practise kindness and help make society inclusive; I guarantee you will make some new friends and benefit from it equally!

Some organisations that promote inclusion in friendships are the Newman Holiday Trust, who run week long respite holidays for children with disabilities, and Pholk, who run short breaks and days out/regular meet ups that bring people with and without disabilities together in unity as equals. I am a volunteer/soon-to-be volunteer at both of these organisations so please get in touch with any questions :)

Thank you for reading this blog post on ‘A Right to Friendship’, if you have any comments or questions please feel free to get in touch via the contact page on my website!

Elle's headshot


Bella's headshot
Photo of Bella and Elle smiling together.