People with learning disabilities' accounts of friendship

Gathard, Jo (2000). People with learning disabilities' accounts of friendship. PhD thesis The Open University.



This study aimed to investigate how people with learning disabilities construct accounts of friendship, and manage aspects of a 'spoiled identity' within this. Furthermore it aimed to investigate how the typical processes of friendship formation are affected by the management of such an identity. It was suggested disclosure of personal information can be anxiety provoking for them and the choice of analysis needed to focus on deconstructing their accounts for linguistic devices used to manage difficult issues and then consideration could be given to the functions of these devices.

Eight people with mild learning disabilities, four men and four women, were recruited to the study. Having obtained their informed consent each was interviewed using a semi-structured interview schedule focusing upon aspects of friendship formation identified within mainstream literature. In view of the aims of the study it was decided the most appropriate form of analysis would be discourse analysis.

At a surface level the experience of the participants mirrored that found in previous research. In addition a number of rhetorical devices were identified. Further consideration of these revealed they were used at times in the interview when either participant or interviewer was attempting to manage an issue related to difference or stigma. In view of this it is argued that managing a stigmatised identity directly impacts upon typical processes of friendship formation.

The findings are discussed; consideration is given to service and research implications. It is suggested that awareness of the nature and function of rhetorical devices could facilitate professionals in helping people with learning disabilities to discuss their difficulties and associated emotions in a more meaningful way. Enabling people with learning disabilities to develop higher self-esteem is discussed in relation to them attributing more value to friendships with others with similar disabilities, and the development of the self-advocacy movement.

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