Making new friends can be tricky for anyone, especially when you’re getting older and are no longer attending school. If you are living with a disability, it can add another layer to this. You may find social situations difficult or overwhelming. It may seem as though other people know, intuitively, how to communicate and interact with others. Of course, this is not necessarily the case.
Getting the right support and information can help you in developing new friendships, and making them long-term, fulfilling ones!
Why might I feel socially isolated?
If you struggle to make and maintain friendships you can end up feeling socially isolated. It may be due to a range of reasons that you experience this social isolation. Some possible examples include:
- You may feel like people without disability are unwelcoming, or do not want to interact with you
- You may prefer to be on your own and enjoy your own company
- You may want to engage with others but lack the confidence or skills to do so
- You may find it difficult to maintain contacts due to a lack of understanding of small talk and other conventions of social behaviour
- You may be trying to avoid repeating a past negative experience, such as bullying
- You may need a higher level of support for activities that friends are able to provide
- You may live independently without friends, support workers or a social network
- You may not be aware of suitable activities in your local area
What can I do about it?
It might be useful to plan in times where you can meet existing friends or look for new friends, especially if you enjoy using routines. You might want to use a timetable or schedule for your week. There are few things you can do to plan and introduce changes that include socialising into your routine:
- Gradually introduce change by identifying one new place to go to every week, for example a local shop
- Focus on places where it is possible to meet new people. In time, you may get to know people you see regularly
- Practice small talk, such as ‘How are you today’. This can help reduce anxiety about making contact with new people.
Join social or support groups
Joining social or support groups can be incredibly helpful in making friends. With any group, there are always new members joining, so there are more potential friends at pretty much every get-together. There is also always a crowd of regulars who you can expect to see each time you attend. As you participate and become one of these regulars, you have a big chance of making friends.
What kind of group should you join?
There are plenty of different social groups and clubs out there. Think about things you enjoy, and search for groups that focus on those subjects. You may feel more motivated to join a social group where members have similar interests to your own. Having common ground, or something members enjoy talking about, makes it easier to start and maintain a conversation.
It’s all about being creative – see if you can find anything that matches your interests, identity or even your weaknesses. Some ways to find a group that suits you are:
- Find local support groups and projects aimed at people with disability
- Search online for information about local activities, sports clubs, talks or groups in your area. There are often local community groups on social media such as Facebook where you can ask for recommendations or find groups
- Learn a new skill. This can often lead to making new friends. A local organisation might run courses in things like art, IT and cooking. Did you know we offer a range of skill-building Group Programs at Summa Care?
- If you are in employment, ask your manager at work or other members of staff about after-work activities.
Taking part in a group or activity
Once you found an activity or group that interests you, get in touch with the group leader or organisation to find out more information. You may need to become a member of some groups to attend meetings, which can possibly include paying a fee. It’s a good idea to ask the organiser about this and find out whether you are required to make any sort of payment, whether this is a one-off or commitment to a weekly, monthly or annual fee.
To make sure the activity is right for you, you may be able to go along as an observer as first.
If you need additional support to take part in the additional, you can ask your Support Worker, a friend or family member to come along.
Don’t feel pressured to attend for the whole or the activity or meeting, or to go own your own – especially at first. Over time, you can increase the length of time you stay, as well as attending without additional support.
If you have any issues in the group, discuss these with the leader so that they can be resolved as soon as possible.
Meeting new people
So, you’ve taken steps to attend a social group or activity. Meeting new people can be difficult at first – what do you talk about? If you’re nervous about this, it can be useful to prepare some questions or introductions to start the conversation.
Examples of topics you could possibly talk about include:
- the weather
- TV programmes, films and books
- what you did over the weekend
Some people may enjoy these small talk topics, others might think they are unnecessary. It depends on each person and their interests. Small talk is a good start for conversations to progress to more in-depth conversations – you may discover you have a similar hobby.
There are certain topics that are best to avoid, such as critical comments about a person’s appearance (for example, saying you don’t like their clothes), money (asking someone how much they earn) and age.
Conversations also end – it’s good to recognise signals that someone is ready to end the conversation. These may include:
- looking around the room
- not asking questions back
- saying they have something else to do
If you aren’t sure, you can ask whether they would like to talk about something else.
Making new friends can be scary at first, but most of all it is exciting. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you struggle – remember each person is different and that there is no right or wrong way to socialise. You may need additional support at first from outside to get involved in the social activities mentioned. Make sure to ask your family, friends or support organisation for help.
If you’d like to find out more about Summa Care’s social and group activities, visit our Group Programs page here. If you are after social, or any other sort of support services, get in touch with the team via calling 1800 226 342 or visiting our contact page. We’re here to help!