Social connectness: keeping in touch with family and friends


Social networks, family and kinship are known to be important components underpinning the quality of life for both older people in general and people with intellectual disabilities. Especially connectedness to family and friends appears to have an important influence on the quality of life of older people.

However, studies show that people with ID have either small networks (only parents or neighbours), networks with limited capacity (such as family members with the same disability), or conflicting networks (loyalty conflicts, quarrels with family members, bullying of neighbours, …).  On average, people with ID have a network of 14 to 22 persons whilst people without a disability can count on a network of 125 to 150 persons on average.

On top of that, the size of AAWID’s social network declines with level of ID, especially when staff relationships and friends within their house are excluded. Most of the social activities of AAWID are with well-known staff/support workers or friends that live in the same house. AAWID with behavioural support needs have very poor or non-existent social networks outside their own immediate family and paid support staff. As a matter of fact, staff are often identified as the primary social companion and the biggest source of confidants for older people with intellectual disability.

The social connectedness of AAWID is also closely linked to their living situations. For instance, AAWIDs that are living in smaller settings or who are living within the general community can more easily build or maintain (social) relationships compared to AAWID living in large institutions and congregated settings.

On the other hand, proximity to family and friends may also be more influential to a person’s QoL rather than residential setting. For example, separation from family, friends and well-known caregivers has a considerable negative impact on the well-being of AAWID when they need to move to another residential service (e.g. home for the elderly), especially when these services are far away from home.

In this unit we will present specific actions that may support older people with intellectual disabilities in overcoming some of these challenges and highlight facilitators of relationships that are important to this population.

This unit contains three mayor exercises divided into 6 smaller exercise activities. All activities are explained in the manuals. The annex’s gather some extra, worksheets, PPT, … needed to complete the exercises. The exercises are designed to develop AAWID’s thinking about family members and friends important to him/her during his/her life and to learn about possible ways to keep in contact or re-connect.

  • Exercise 1: Who is important to me?
  • Exercise 2: Ways of re-connecting
  • Exercise 3: My plan to re-connect

The exercises are designed to be run in the specified order, but can be delivered in any way that you see fit.  Each exercise is designed to last approximately two hours but this will vary, depending on the circumstances and the group.


The exercises are developed for aawid who are able to communicate verbally and understand

simple instructions. They are created as group sessions however, they could be tailored for use with individuals if necessary. The exercises may need to be adapted for students with more complex learning needs by using more visual or live props and role plays.

To adapt, also think about the following questions:

  • What is their current framework/background of knowledge?
  • What do they understand about what is happening in their life right now? What do they understand about the future?
  • How much more could they be helped to understand? What ‘knowledge chunks’ could, and should, be added to their current framework of knowledge?

Learning outcomes

Knowledge Skills

Knowing who has played an important role in life

  1. Identify important family members or friends.
  2. Identify how regularly he meets these family members and friends.
  3. Select how often he/she would like to hear or meet the important family members and friends.

Knowing ways to keep in touch or to reconnect with people

  1. To identify possible ways to keep in touch or meet up with family or friends.
  2. To identify possible ways to reconnect with family or friends.
  3. To select the correct tools that enable contact with family or friends.

Knowing how to plan those contacts

  1. To plan how to keep in touch or reconnect with family or friends

Other units

Unit 8
Social participation

Active ageing: Postretirement working – or leisure activities in the community

Unit 9
Social participation

Social engagement: helping others and contributing to society

Unit 10
Social participation

Social Media