Sunday, August 20, 2017

How to avoid loneliness in older people with an Intellectual Disability, by Andrew Wormald

  • Avoiding loneliness is important for healthy ageing
  • Nearly twice as many older people with an Intellectual Disability (ID) experience consistent loneliness, when compared to the general population
  • Having a Person Centred Plan (PCP) improves a person’s chance of avoiding loneliness
  • Changes in the frequency of visits with family is a factor in recovery from loneliness
  • Moving within the service organisation was related to becoming lonely

What are the circumstances in a person’s life that best help them avoid or overcome loneliness? For some people as they age loneliness is an ever-present risk. Mounting losses to social resources and deterioration in health increase the risk of experiencing loneliness. However, not all people experience loneliness, and some people are able to recover from the experience of loneliness. This article highlights the findings from the Intellectual Disability Supplement to The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (IDS-TILDA). Those findings can help our understanding of what can be done to reduce the chances of a person with an ID becoming lonely, or if they are lonely what can be done to overcome that loneliness.


Loneliness is an aversive experience that causes suffering for the individual. It is thought to arise because our inherited evolutionary warning system is alerting people that their social networks are inadequate, leaving a person exposed to danger and at risk of a shorter life (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2008). When loneliness becomes chronic, it has been associated with raised systolic blood pressure (Hawkley et al., 2010; Ong et al., 2012), increased cardiovascular disease (Lynch, 2000), suicidal ideation (Merrick et al., 2006) and increased mortality (Cacioppo & Cacioppo, 2014).


The experience of loneliness can be chronic, transient or situational (Peplau, 1988). Victor et al. (2008) described four states of loneliness that people can experience: Consistent Loneliness, where participants reported loneliness over both waves of data collection; Regenerative Loneliness, where people report experiencing loneliness in wave 1 but not in wave 2; Degenerative Loneliness, where participants report no experience of loneliness in wave 1 and in wave 2 report feelings of loneliness; and Never Being Lonely.


Latest results from the IDS-TILDA study offer hope to older individuals with an ID, staff and service providers about how loneliness can be avoided or overcome. The IDS-TILDA is Europe’s leading longitudinal research project investigating the ageing process of older people with an intellectual disability. The project is following the lives of 753 participants throughout the Republic of Ireland. A total of 297 participants completed the loneliness scale; all were able to self-report their experience of loneliness over 2 waves of data collection 3 years apart.



It was found (Figure 1) that more than 26% of participants reported experiencing Consistent Loneliness over the two waves of data collection, 19% were categorised as Regenerative, 12% were Degenerative and 42% of participants never reported experiencing feelings of loneliness. The amount of Consistent Loneliness is nearly double the amount reported from the wider population (Figure2). The good news is that, having more people in the recovered from loneliness than became lonely is unusual and goes against the trend of findings in the wider population (Jylhä, 2004; Wenger & Burholt, 2004; Victor et al., 2008).


In a regression analysis the three factors found to predict never being lonely were having less functional limitations, having a person centered plan (PCP) and not wanting to do more activities.

While it may be difficult to overcome a person’s functional limitations staff and services should be aware that increased functional limitations increase the risk of loneliness. Participants with average functional ability, compared to those categorized as good functional ability, were half as likely to be in the never lonely category. Those with poor functional limitations were one-third as likely to be in the never lonely group.


Having a PCP is fundamental to many modern services and 82% of participants in this sample reported having a PCP. People with a PCP were more than twice as likely to be categorized as never reporting loneliness, than those that did not have a PCP. This finding highlights the efficacy of a good plan and further justifies their ongoing development.


The finding that not wanting to do more activities leads to an increased chance of never being lonely also makes sense. This reflects one the central pillars of the Cognitive Discrepancy Approach to loneliness which is that loneliness is experienced when achieved social resources do not match desired social resources (Perlman & Peplau, 1998).


Participants who had experienced changes in family visit rate were over four times more likely to recover from experiencing feelings of loneliness. This reflects the importance of family in the lives of people with an ID, and it is an issue that is commonly dealt with in a PCP planning process.

Degenerative loneliness was predicted by moving within the service organisation. Those who did move within their service structure were nearly three times more likely to become lonely than those that did not. This problem has been raised previously as a potential unintended consequence of current policy (Wormald, 2014). Moving within the service can represent a disruption to the established way of life often found to precipitate loneliness (Weiss, 1973; Victor et al., 2008). Situational life changes such as this have been found to lead to temporary experiences of loneliness from which people recover (Peplau, 1988), whether this applies to this population will be established once wave 3 data is collected and analysed.


The most significant predictors of consistent loneliness were having had a fall in the month before wave 1 and experiencing difficulties doing activities. The effects of having a fall are quite striking in that a person who fell in the month before wave one was three times more likely to be lonely than a participant who did not fall. Loneliness is often brought on by a single precipitating event, having a fall may be such an event. Once people fall they may feel they can no longer attain their own desired social life and may develop a sense of hopelessness. If a fall does mark a decline in a person’s life when they can no longer control their destiny, then staff and services need to be aware of this and give the person help in this transition helping them to adjust their expectations.

To help older individuals with an ID have a positive and healthy ageing experience it is essential they avoid loneliness. Findings from IDS-TILDA suggest that an individualized PCP and stability in their lives will help people with ID avoid loneliness. Staff and service providers should also support individuals in making changes to social networks to better meet social needs. While functional limitations and physical decline are not under direct control of anyone all of us can still be mindful that both reduce the chances of avoiding loneliness and ensure people are given the help they need to adapt their expectations to changing realities.


BROER, T., NIEBOER, A. P., STRATING, M. M. H., MICHON, H. W. C. & BAL, R. A. (2010). Constructing the social: an evaluation study of the outcomes and processes of a ‘social participation’ improvement project. — Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing 18, 323-332.References

CACIOPPO, J. T. & CACIOPPO, S. (2014). Social Relationships and Health: The Toxic Effects of Perceived Social Isolation. — Social and Personality Psychology Compass 8, 58-72.

CACIOPPO, J. T. & PATRICK, W. (2008). Loneliness: Human nature and the need for social connection. — WW Norton & Company.

HAWKLEY, L. C., THISTED, R. A., MASI, C. M. & CACIOPPO, J. T. (2010). Loneliness predicts increased blood pressure: 5-year cross-lagged analyses in middle-aged and older adults. — Psychology and Aging 25, 132-141.

JYLHÄ, M. (2004). Old Age and Loneliness: Cross-sectional and Longitudinal Analyses in the Tampere Longitudinal Study on Aging. — Can. J. Aging 23, 157-168.

LAWLOR, B., GOLDEN, J., WALSH, C., CONRAD, R., HOLFELD, E. & TOBIN, M. (2014). Only the Lonely: a randomized controlled trial of volunteer visiting programme for older people experiencing loneliness. — In. Trinity College Dublin, Dublin.

LYNCH, J., J. (2000). A cry unheard: new insights into the medical consequences of loneliness. — Bancroft Press, Baltimore.

MERRICK, J., MERRICK, E., LUNSKY, Y. & KANDEL, I. (2006). A review of suicidality in persons with intellectual disability. — The Israel journal of psychiatry and related sciences 43, 258.

ONG, A. D., ROTHSTEIN, J. D. & UCHINO, B. N. (2012). Loneliness accentuates age differences in cardiovascular responses to social evaluative threat. — Psychology and Aging 27, 190-198.

PEPLAU, A. (1988). 3rd National Conference on Psychiatric Nursing, Montreal Quebec, Canada.

PERLMAN, D. & PEPLAU, L. A. (1998). Loneliness. — Encyclopedia of mental health 2, 571-581.

VICTOR, C., SCAMBLER, S. & BOND, J. (2008). The Social World Of Older People: Understanding Loneliness And Social Isolation In Later Life: Understanding Loneliness and Social Isolation in Later Life. — McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

WEISS, R. (1973). Loneliness The experience of Emotional and Social Isolation. — MIT Press, London.

WENGER, G. C. & BURHOLT, V. (2004). Changes in Levels of Social Isolation and Loneliness among Older People in a Rural Area: A Twenty–Year Longitudinal Study. — Can. J. Aging 23, 115-127.


Author Bio

Andrew Wormald is a part-time PhD student at Trinity College Dublin School of Nursing and Midwifery working as a member of the IDS-TILDA team. His subject is An Investigation of Loneliness in Older People with an Intellectual Disability. He is also an Instructor with the Brothers of Charity Limerick Services where he has worked for 10 years. Andrew graduated from the University of Limerick in 2010 with a First Class Honours Degree in Humanities and Graduated from The Open University in 2012 with an MSc in Psychological Research Methods. Prior to this Andrew worked for The Cheshire Foundation as an Acquired Brain Injury Support Worker and whilst in the UK worked in industry in a senior management role.

Orlaith Grehan of Áiseanna Tacaíochta brings us on an inspirational journey, acknowledging pivotal moments in history and showing the crucial part that community plays in shaping our future.

Martin in front of Capitol building
Martin Naughton and his team travelled to America to travel the path of Martin Luther King Jr. in a bid to raise awareness of peoples rights here in Ireland. It has been 50 years since the famous Selma to Montgomery march, led by Martin Luther King and 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed.

2015 marks the anniversaries of two seminal events in civil rights and disability history which have shaped the way we all live today.

This year has focused world attention on the 50th anniversary of the historic Selma to Montgomery march, led by Martin Luther King, which united the civil rights movement in America by securing, at last, voting rights for the country’s African-American citizens.  It also celebrates 25 years since the passing of the influential Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ultimately brought about when disability activists took action in an event known as the Capitol Crawl to demand recognition of their equal rights.

For us here in Áiseanna Tacaíochta (ÁT), we wanted to not only pay respect to the courage and sacrifices of the people who inspired the progression of the rights that we hold dear and continue to fight for today, but to learn from them and to strengthen the bonds which loop between the rights movements here in Ireland and in the United States (US).

So, in late March, we left for American shores in our ‘Two Hearts Beat as One’ endeavour.  Although we were a small team – made up of our co-founder and Director, Martin Naughton, and his team of Personal Assistants (PAs), our Project Development Coordinator, Niall O’Baoill, and myself – we had big ambitions.  In a month-long, symbolic journey designed to connect with the key leaders and locations associated with these remarkable moments in time, we set out to honour the initiative and resilience of those who stood up – and continue to stand up – for full equality and human rights.

martin and his posseArriving in New York, we travelled down to Washington DC and on to Atlanta, Georgia, a landmark city in civil rights history.  There, we visited the Martin Luther King Center, met with disability activist and ADA campaigner Mark Johnson, and engaged with the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

Moving on to Selma, Alabama, we commemorated the pivotal march to Montgomery by undertaking the full, 50-mile length of the walk ourselves over four days; with plenty of visits from disbelieving State Troopers and double-takes from locals who marvelled at the sight of our unusual group walking along the edge of a highway in thirty degree heat, it was quite the experience!  Arriving at the State Capitol building on April 4th, the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death, marked a powerful moment for us all.

ann codyThe next week brought us on, then, to Washington DC, where we met with the influential disability activist – and current Special Advisor on International Disability Rights to the US Government – Judith Heumann, and delivered a presentation on Independent Living and the impact of the ADA in Europe to the State Department.  Making a stop in Philadelphia to meet with the Irish-American Congressman Brendan Boyle, we wound our way back to New York to gather with some truly innovative disability campaigners, before heading to our final destination of Boston, where we met with the Mayor, Marty Walsh.

So, why this journey at that time? Well, America holds a special importance for us, as it was there that our co-founder Martin, who had lived in institutions for people with disabilities up to that point, first experienced Independent Living while on a visit in the 1980s.  He brought the concept back here to Ireland, establishing the first Center for Independent Living (CIL) in the country in 1992, and continued on to eventually set up ÁT, the first organisation in Ireland to give complete control of individual budgets to people with disabilities and their families.  In their own ways, these marked vital milestones for the disability community in Ireland, ones which were guided and motivated by our Stateside peers; it was for this that we recognised the crucial opportunity to cement the relationships we have with them in this commemorative year.

Martin crossing bridgeBut, more than that, we wanted to raise awareness and support for a new, emerging movement for people with disabilities here in Ireland.  We shared our message and everything we encountered across social media as we travelled, calling on society to come together again and support a renewed cry for equal rights for disability communities everywhere as our journey went on.

That, in turn, led to us echoing and commending the values and experiences we came across in America in our A Declaration of Independence: The First Assembly event in Athlone in June.  Having looked to and met with those who generated their moments in time in America, we created our own, bringing hundreds of people with all types of disabilities and their communities together for the first time.

At the end of the day, it’s up to us to shape our own future.  Some of us may come from different backgrounds, live with different disabilities or come across different hurdles in our lives, but, at the core, we are all the same: we are all people whose rights are not being either recognised or realised, and we are the ones who, together, can turn that around.

martin and DAG

Those values grounded our journey to America, and will ground everything we do and seek to achieve each day.  Communities, when they come together, can spark a flame of change that genuinely brightens the future for us all.  By honouring those communities which did just that, we hope our journey throws light on their achievements, and ignites a united and rejuvenated determination to make equality, inclusion and independence the reality for every person with a disability in Ireland.

Author Bio

Orlaith Grehan is Communications Officer with Áiseanna Tacaíochta (ÁT).

Áiseanna Tacaíochta is the first organisation in Ireland to offer Direct Payments to people with disabilities and their families, enabling them to take control of their own budgets, their own services and, ultimately, their own lives.
For more information, please visit or call 01 525 0707.
More information and photos about the ‘Two Hearts Beat as One’ journey to America is available here.

Getting started in the world of social media in the context of intellectual disability.

social media icons
Frontline issue 100 is coming soon and the theme is ‘Social Media and how to use it well‘.
Social Media can be great but sometimes it can be hard to know what to do. Below, please find a few easy videos on how to get started using social media.
If you are not sure of how to stay safe and keep your information private while using social media then ask a friend to help you.

Frontline issue 100 is coming soon and the theme is ‘Social Media and how to use it effectively‘.

Social Media can be a great social resource for people but sometimes it can be daunting trying to keep up to date with the ever-changing trends, tools and platforms. Below, please find a few basic videos on how to get started using social media. If you are unsure of how to stay safe and keep your information private while using social media then we would advise you to ask a friend to guide you in the beginning.

We are looking for articles based on this theme but we are also looking for stories related in any way to intellectual disability.

If you would like to contribute, why not drop us a line via our contact page or via Facebook and Twitter.

Here is a basic video on how to sign up for a Facebook account….

Here is a basic video on how to sign up for a Twitter account….

Brian Manning interviews John Byrne about his extensive travelling around the world.

John Byrne Train
John Byrne talks about his travelling all around the world. He focuses on his amazing trip on the Trans-Siberian train from St. Petersburg in Russia to Beijing in China. He encourages other service users to get out there in the world and take a look.

How many holidays have you gone on?

I’ve lost count, I tend to remember the big ones.

Do you travel by yourself or do you go with other people?

I go mostly on my own, like if I go around Europe I’d tend to go on my own.

Where is the most exotic place you’ve visited?

Well, Romania, Georgia, Armenia, Bulgaria and that, I was in Albania and all them places.

Do you ever go on holidays with people?

I went a few times down the country (in Ireland) with assistance, to give a dig out, give them a hand. And sometimes I go on holiday with my brother.

How do you find travelling on your own? Is it dangerous? Is it lonely?

No, not really, you get used to it. Well, maybe a bit, back in the ’90’s, when I started going to

these strange countries but when you get to know them first-hand you get a feel for where you are going.

If you get to a far-away country like Kazakhstan how do you book a room and how do you understand people?

It’s very hard when you get into places like Kyrgyzstan/Kazakhstan because English isn’t spoken very much. They might ask you do you speak Russian but I don’t speak Russian. Russian is like a second language in all those countries around there. But you get by. I know someone in Kazakhstan and I went to visit them.

How often do you like to get away?

A few times a year if I can but it depends on funds. I don’t drink or smoke, you know, I like to save my money for travel.

john byrne 2

Your passport must have a lot of stamps in it!

It does, and visas too. After you pass Romania and those countries you need a visa for Russia, Mongolia, China and the like. I have a lady called Hannah in Dublin who helps me get visas. She works in Visa First in Stephen’s Green, Dublin.

 Have you been through any border crossings?

I crossed a few. From Kyrgyzstan into Kazakhstan. It was ok. Sometimes there are armed guards. The problem is that Kyrgyzstan is so poor and Kazakhstan’s one of the richest places out that way so a lot of people want to go there.

 People reading this might imagine these places to be very dangerous.

Anywhere at all can be dangerous. Sure, Dublin City at night time can be dangerous.

You went on a big trip recently?

Yes, in 2013. Myself and my brother we flew from Dublin to Helsinki, Finland. We stayed there 2 nights and had a gander around the city.

Then we took a high speed train to St. Petersburg, where we met up with a group of tourists and checked out the canals and lakes by boat. It was the Summertime, so it was bright till about 11 o’clock. This year when they put the hour back (for daylight savings time) they decided not to change it anymore.

After 2 days in St. Petersburg we took the train to a place called Vladimir, and then on to Suzdal, and from there to Moscow. We stayed there for 2 nights and visited the Kremlin and the undergrounds. Then we took the Eastbound train to Irkutsk, which lasted about 3 days. When we got there, we went to a small local village and the man who organised the trip, his name was Eugene, showed us local life, local cooking. There was rock-climbing but my brother and I decided not to chance it so we went for nice walks in the forests.

The local people were so nice so we decided to go into the local community hall where there were discos. The kids were in there, there were no adults, the kids were very good, they played their music and all. Next we travelled back in to Irkutsk, which is beside a big lake that is so big you think you are looking at the sea!

Next, we took a train to Mongolia, to a city called Ulaan Bataar, the capital city. A nice place was the Buddhist temple in the city. Years ago, all the people in Mongolia used to live in tents called ‘yurts’ so we went to a camp to see people living like this.

yurtsIt was a really beautiful place with lovely scenery and more home-cooking again! We went back to Ulaan Bataar and were fed up eating strange food. Luckily enough a few weeks beforehand a KFC had opened up in the city! So we said we would go to KFC for a change.

Next up was a train to Beijing which took over a day. The views were amazing and we passed through the desert. At the Chinese border the train stopped and we had our passports checked. Next thing we know the wheels had to be changed on the train because the tracks or the wheels are different. So, off we went and we arrived into Beijing into one of the busiest stations you could ever see! After we got to our hotel we went for a look around. I said to my brother, “there’s a McDonald’s! I’m goin’ there.” Because I’m a little fussy with what I eat. I’m afraid I might get sick. I have that on my mind. But I tell you what I lived on…..Chinese noodles. They were nice and I bought my own tea and that.

great wall of china

The group we were with were nice. We went to see the Great Wall of China which was amazing and as we were walking down we met 2 people from County Kildare. Even though you are so far away you will always meet someone from Ireland. My brother and I went by ourselves to see Tiananmen Square because we like to see as much as possible.

Next we flew to Abu Dhabi and then home.

Do you have any plans for the future?

Yes, this year I’m just going to stay local. I’m going to Georgia in a few weeks’ time. Then just going to do an Inter-Rail in September. I’m going to Romania for a week at the end of July.

I’m going over by bus and coming home by flight. The bus goes from Belfast and travels all the way by land to Romania.

I hope to go to Australia by myself again next year. I’d like to travel from Melbourne to Darwin and see Ayers Rock. I’ll look at prices in the next few weeks. I can pay the flights off a little bit each week.

Next year I also want to travel starting off in Rosslare to Fishguard, Fishguard to London, London to Brussels, Brussels through Austria, Hungary and Romania, spend 2 days in Romania, from there go into Moldova, Ukraine and into Russia. I’d like to travel by myself, not with a group – on to Irkutsk, then Ulaan Bataar in Mongolia, then down to Beijing. Then I want to extend my trip down to Vietnam and into Cambodia and into Thailand. From Thailand I want to go down into Malaysia and then into Singapore. Then I want to take a flight to India for a few days to see what it’s like. Then on to Abu Dhabi and then Dublin.

That’s my plan for 2016, Please God.


Would you encourage other service-users to travel?

Well, I would but not everyone has the same spirit as me. It’s not for everybody.

Do you think your travels have changed you?

Well, you see different countries and the way they look at life, their lifestyles. Some of the healthiest people you could meet.

It’s a busy life for an active member of the community with special needs, as John Feighery says in his first article for Frontline Magazine.

My name is John Feighery. I am 24 years old, I have special needs. I was born with Down’s Syndrome but that has not stopped me from growing into an active member of my community.

I am a volunteer in Porterstown Pastoral Centre. Every Sunday from 11:00am-12.30pm, the community meet for a cup of tea and a chat after Mass. My role is to give out the tea and biscuits, I also collect rubbish and wash the dishes. I am very friendly and I talk to everybody, especially the children.

I am also a Minister of the Eucharist for the church. I take part in the local pantomime every year. I sing and dance and have a part to play. I am the same as everyone else in the pantomime and we make the audiences very happy.

There is a lot of sadness in the world so when my friends and I in the local Special Olympics ALPs decided to have a Book and Art sale, we decided to give the money we made to a good cause. We picked the Laura Lynn Hospice for sick children. We made €1,700- The director of Laura Lynn was delighted with that donation from our group and we were happy to help sick children.

I often give presentations to Transition Year students about my life so that they may understand that just because I have special needs, it does not make me any different from them.

My Dad says that it is good to help out in the community, because it encourages other people to help out also. My mentor and I asked my parents what my good points were, and they said that I was a very good listener, that I would talk and listen to all the families who come to church for Mass, Christenings and Marriages.

When I talk to people and they have worries or sick family, I pray for them every night. People like to talk to me because I am a good listener and I make friends easily with everyone.

I work for two hours every week in a Starbucks Cafe. I love when people I know come in for a cup of coffee. I also have a work placement in the Elbow Room in North Brunswick Street. I am able to get there by bus which makes me very independent. I would enjoy having another job near home.

I think that people are comfortable talking to me. When I go to the local shop and shopping centre I make lots of friends. I love the Golden Discs shop and I know all the people who work there. When I go to the town centre people from the Cinema, Eason’s Book shop and clothes shops all know me by name and talk to me.

I wanted to write this article to let people know that I, as a special needs person, have a lot to offer in my community.

Author Bio

5 - Citizen John - John Feighery photoWhen he’s not busy working and helping in the community, John Feighery lives in Clonsilla, Dublin, 15.

On 29th September 2014 Irish Distillers, under the leadership of Denis O’Reilly of Difference Days, arrived at Rosanna Gardens to undertake a garden transformation. Difference Days was founded in 2009 to facilitate corporate socially responsible events, whereby staff from organisations experience an ‘alternative day out’ and give their labour for one day to benefit others - basically a team-building day with a difference! The Sunbeam Times spoke with Denis to ask how the process works and what the experience was like…

Difference Days team
  • Irish Distillers gave up a day of regular work to team up with Sunbeam House Services.
  • The goal was to get the 2 staff teams together and build a large garden in Ashford for the Sunbeam service-users.
  • The project was organised by Difference Days.

How did it come about that you undertook a garden renovation project at Rosanna?

Having done two previous Difference Days in Sunbeam House – one at Killarney Road, Bray (deck, football pitch and gym), and the other in Ballyraine, Arklow (woodland trail), both with staff from – I contacted John Hannigan and Bernard Fitzsimons to see if we could help with other requirements, as I had to find a suitable project for Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard who wanted to do a Difference Day with 250 of their staff.  Once I have a requirement I go and find a project – I knew how well we had worked with Bernard and all at Sunbeam before, so I knew we could work well together again.

What was the next step?

Bernard introduced me to the guys at Rosanna and showed me the overgrown rear space, and immediately I could see that it could be transformed and make Rosanna an even better place for the men and women that live there. I then got some feedback from Seamus Murphy and Bernard on what Rosanna would like.

Our landscaper Maurice Byrne and I then inspected the site with Bernard and we started to put together the proposed design – Maurice came up with some great ideas like redirecting the stream so we could make the island/memorial garden. The idea was to have a space that could be used by all the residents at Rosanna and other Sunbeam sections.  The raised beds would allow vegetables to be grown, the exercise trail would be used for fitness, and the BBQ area for having fun!  We then priced up the costs to implement the transformation of the space, and I arranged for Rosemary Garth – Communications Director, and John Carroll – Irish Distillers, to inspect the space and meet the residents.  They just loved the plans and the guys from Rosanna.

Once the project was approved by Irish Distillers we had a meeting with Bernard and planned the timescale for the preparation work to be undertaken by Maurice and Adam Rankin from Difference Days and supported by Bernard and his team.

How much preparation was required?

Maurice and Adam did around four weeks of preparation work (with Bernard’s team assisting) so that the shape of the garden was framed, ensuring that the Irish Distillers 250 strong team could complete the garden on their Difference Day.  In addition we had all materials delivered and tools ready.

On 28th September we had a site meeting with all the Sunbeam team that were assigned to help on the Difference Day, along with our Difference Day team, so everyone knew what their tasks were for the next day.

Tell us about the day itself-…

On the day itself, 29th September, DJ Ed (a resident of Rosanna) had his music pumping.  The Sunbeam team came together to welcome the Irish Distillers team as they arrived, and there was tea and pastries for everyone. We subdivided the teams into 15 projects and off we went and built the garden in 3 hours!   It was fantastic to have all the residents of Rosanna and many other clients from Sunbeam on site to help and to meet the Irish Distillers volunteers.  The support and camaraderie from staff and clients from Sunbeam was amazing.

We managed to get everything completed in the three hours – the Irish Distillers staff worked like mad and were truly amazing.  The garden came out better than anticipated and the feedback from the Irish Distillers crew was exceptional – they just loved meeting everyone, particularly the residents from Rosanna and other centres.  Irish Distillers were so proud of what they achieved on the day and what they left behind for the guys from Rosanna.  Rosemary Garth (Communications Director from Irish Distillers) stated that some of her colleagues commented it was the best team building day they had ever done!

rosanna project


225 Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard Staff

15 projects completed.

12 ton of beach cobble placed along the bed and banks of new stream.

110 ton of hardcore.

60 ton of Ballylusk dust used for wheelchair-accessible paths.

Equivalent to 4 tennis courts of rolled lawn laid.

49 wheelbarrows, 106 shovels, 39 rakes, 14 hammers, 24 spirit levels,

12 handsaws and 200 ear protectors provided.

Garden built in 3 hours.


Project 1 – construct/plant stream bank

Project 2 – build 7 metres x 2.4 metres barrel style screen

Project 3 – build tree seat surround

Project 4 – build main roadway/circular section

Project 5 – construct exercise zone (8 zones)

Project 6 – construct picket fence 13 metres x 1.2 metres

Project 7 – build central pathway/boundary pathway

Project 8 – memorial garden (Joe Nolan)

Project 9 – construct bridge 4 metres x 1.6 metres

Project 10 – BBQ area – construct circular Ballylusk base and build equipment

Project 11 – bamboo screen 6 metre

Project 12 – old stream planting team and move to turf lawn project 3 & 13

Project 13 – construct gazebo/veg. planters/turf lawn area

Project 14 – screen/ballylusk rec. court 7 metres x 2.4 metres high

Project 15 – erect glasshouse.


It’s a beautiful garden and I like it very much and I really enjoy it – Sean Sheekey.

I want a swing in the garden – Christopher Doyle.

It’s excellent – Martin Byrne.

For Joe Nolan – Fintan Finnegan.

From the start it looked like a swamp, and now the way it is, is fantastic – Edward Byrne.

A good place to sit down on a sunny day – William Gregory.

The majority of clients would use the garden on a daily basis for exercise or even just sitting out or walking around.  Even though it’s cold at the moment, they wrap up and go out.  They are much more interested in using the garden now than they were before – Staff at Rosanna.

rosanna project 2

Bernard Fitzsimons:-

We took a garden that was very barren, and financially we could not achieve what was achieved by Difference Days.   Irish Distillers paid for everything and funded it all – Sunbeam House didn’t have to put their hand in their pocket for anything.

For two weeks before Difference Days arrived, a lot of preparation work was carried out by TÚS workers from Ballyraine, by Maurice and Adam of Difference Days, and by Rosanna staff and others.

The whole garden is called the Joe Nolan Memorial Garden, in memory of Joe Nolan who was a staff nurse at Rosanna but who sadly passed away last year.  Irish Distillers did not want any mention of themselves in the garden, as they were doing the work in the total spirit of giving back and didn’t want any undue publicity.  The local Red Cross were there in case of accidents, but thank God they weren’t required.  They donated their services free of charge.

When the work was finished, Irish Distillers provided a hot lunch via a catering company whom they had used before.  The food was amazing, and included two pig spit roasts!  Sunbeam then presented a cake to Irish Distillers.  Irish Distillers staff got back onto their buses and headed off to a conference, where I’m sure they had a chance to recover from their activities.

The TÚS workers couldn’t believe the change in the garden when they saw it after it was finished, and the garden was used that very first night for one of Sunbeam’s Rosanna staff who was celebrating a birthday.

I want to thank Denis, Adam and Maurice from Difference Days, Rosanna staff who helped out in advance (particularly the weekend beforehand), the Red Cross, Sunbeam staff and clients, and anyone who showed up and gave a hand in any way.

Bernard Fitzsimons

Author Bio

Bernard Fitzsimons is a staff member in Sunbeam House Services.


Denis O’Reilly founded Difference Days in 2009.

Lucy Blake and Darragh’s excellent adventure comes to a thrilling climax at Waterford’s dance spectacular…

Lucy and Darragh dancing
After weeks and weeks of hard training and worn out dance shoes, Darragh and Lucy enter the competition Strictly Let’s Dance. The night was a blur of great music and an even better atmosphere as they won the trophy for most improved dance couple.

Well, the big day had arrived, after 8 weeks of intensive dance training Darragh and I were ready.  The Strictly Let’s Dance Waterford in aid of The Solas Centre, South-East Cancer Foundation, was finally here. We had our routines practiced to perfection, our costumes bought and altered, our props sorted and the hair and make-up professionally done (well for me, not Darragh obviously!)

The lights went up, the music began and we made our grand entrance, the atmosphere in the hall was electric, the cheers and shouts from family and friends gave us a real boost! There were approximately 700 people in the audience that night, which was fantastic.

Darragh is a huge sports fan, so for our entrance routine we wore hurling jerseys, Darragh in Waterford colours and myself in Galway colours (borrowed from my husband Paul), Waterford had just beaten Galway in the league quarter finals that very afternoon so Darragh was pretending to beat me with a giant inflatable hammer, which went down very well with our Waterford audience!

The opening dance was great fun and really got the crowd going, we all danced to ‘I’m Sexy & I know it’ the audience got a great kick out of it with us all shaking our stuff and wiggling our backsides around!

Our own individual dance was to “You ain’t never had a friend like me” from Aladdin, for which we were dressed as Aladdin and Princess Jasmine. Our routine went really well, the audience and the judges loved it. We got very positive feedback from the judges and scored 9-9-10, so we were over the moon with that and thrilled that all our hard work had paid off. We then performed in our group dance to Glenn Miller “In The Mood” which we really enjoyed too, although there was a slight blip as the music started before we were all on stage, but that didn’t phase Darragh one bit, like a true professional he just took my hand and kept on dancing.

The night went by in a blur of dancing, music, spotlights, costume changes and fun and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We didn’t win unfortunately, but we were awarded with the trophy for The Most Improved Couple which we were delighted with.  The winning couple were brilliant; they were Sean Connolly and Ciara Grant who performed a fantastic high energy country routine.

We have really enjoyed the experience of Strictly Let’s Dance, hosted by Vesper Events and I have to say that I feel very lucky to have been partnered with Darragh; he is an absolute gentleman, a lovely person who is kind, genuine, and generous, he has a great sense of humour and is always the life and soul of the group. It goes without saying that he is a fantastic dancer and I am delighted that I got to dance with such an amazing partner. He said he found it tiring at times but that didn’t stop him giving it his all and keeping up with the rigorous training schedule and complicated steps. I will miss training with Darragh as I feel we have become great friends over the past few weeks and I know that we will definitely stay in contact, as we will with many of the new friends that we have made during Strictly. In fact we’re meeting up with all the dancers for a meal this Saturday night. We had great support from Darragh’s family who helped us out with props, costumes, fundraising and also the use of their sitting room for dance practice!

Overall participating in Strictly was a great and unforgettable experience and we are delighted to say that the event has raised over €62,000 for The Solas Centre, a fantastic facility open to all cancer patients and their families free of charge in the South-East. Many of the Solas staff and volunteers gave up not only their whole weekend, but many days and nights previously preparing for and working towards the event and their support was greatly appreciated by us and all the dancers.

The Solas Centre is the finest cancer support building in the country and the people of the South East can be proud in the knowledge that this is due to their support and generosity. Without them, the Solas Centre would not be here.

We aim to provide the best possible cancer support services to the people of the South East of Ireland. With the counselling, relaxation therapies and group support services on offer at the Solas Centre we endeavour to provide cancer patients, their families and carers with a safe place; a place to talk things over, to relax and express emotions.

Frontline contributors illustrate the difficulties associated with independent living for people who live with intellectual disability.

Story 1 – John feels he lives in a dangerous area. He has to deal with threats.
Story 2 – Conor would like to be independent but came across difficulties getting on the housing list.
Story 3 – Jack wants to be indpendent but was given a place in a group home which he didn’t like.
Story 4 – Liam was left with €34 per week after housing costs. He was homeless for a time too which makes life difficult with medication etc. He has an interesting story and good advice for people.
Story 1

by John

I feel like I would be better off outside of the area. I don’t feel safe in the area because there are some dangerous people there. There were threats being made, and the guards investigated and they asked if there were more threats afterwards. Two weeks later there were more threats made towards me. I said to the social worker “if you can get me out of the area I would be prepared to move anywhere”.

I have found it difficult to get on the housing list because there is a Garda investigation going on. I was in a B&B for a week and then I was over in a hotel for two weeks until things died down a bit, but now I’m back home. I had a meeting with the HSE and the family about what I’m going to do. My social worker thought that my other family members were going to gang up on me and wouldn’t think twice about attacking me. So the guards are trying to keep us away until the investigation is over- I asked the social worker how we’re going to get around the council. I need to go where my sister and her husband can’t find me. It’s been going on for the last two years (since 2013).

I had to make a complaint about the threats. The social worker had to come into the Garda station to me. The guards handed the threats to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) as evidence.

If I moved house I wouldn’t be looking over my shoulders as much, so it will be better.

Story 2

by Conor

I got the housing list form and filled out all my details. After I submitted it, the housing office lost the form. I applied for another housing list form, and then they found the one they lost before. It took me weeks to get on the list. The council said I had to do an independent living skills course to see if I could live on my own. Before the course I was number 1684 on the list and then they made me priority. I got a letter off them saying that I would have a place in twelve weeks if I could get €1,000-

I will be happy to have a place because then I will be out of my Nanny’s house and my sister’s house. When I’m living on my own I can make a mess and do what I want to and they’ll give me a key worker to check on my place every day. I’m praying every day for them to hurry up.

Story 3

by Jack

I was living at home first, and I was on the housing list. Because I was on the list, I was given a place in a group home in 2010- In 2011 I moved back home because I didn’t like the group home that I was in. Now I’m living at home with my parents and the council took me off the list. I would like to go back on the housing list because I want to be independent.

I’m talking to my advocate and I’ve been working with my social worker. They are helping me get my name on the list. I’m also talking to my local TD and he’s working with me and my family and he helps me with it. All three of these people have been very helpful to me.


Story 4

by Liam

I have been on the social housing list since April 2012.

I am still living in a bedsit at the moment, hoping to be housed soon, three years on.

I am a diabetic, and being homeless over the past few years means I haven’t had a place to store my medication. I have been in and out of Bed and Breakfasts, and campus accommodation in the university I was studying in, at one point living on €34 a week after accommodation costs. This was funded by my disability allowance, HEA grant, and selling my belongings.

So far, trying to be housed has been very difficult and confusing. You can only apply to one county council housing list at a time, meaning when I was placed as number 555 on my local housing list, I was unable to apply to another area of the city.

While I should have been attending my college course, I was going around in circles trying to find a permanent base for myself-

After I was made homeless, I got in contact with a number of homeless services.

I approached Focus Ireland, but the current housing crisis is so bad that I found the office in Temple Bar overflowing.

Threshold Access Housing Unit, which doesn’t exist anymore, did help me, and I think it’s a shame that this service doesn’t exist anymore.

In an effort to move up the housing list, I got letters of support from my GP, advocate, and university. Unfortunately, none of these made a difference. I found this very frustrating, as I had had a change of circumstances for the worse, and this did not improve my position on the housing list. It seems a change in circumstances only impacts your position on the list if it is a change for the better.

My GP referring me to a local social worker made a huge difference to me. This person was in contact with the local housing clinic, and they were able to connect me with the local housing officer. This person advised me to revisit the previous people for a letter of support again, and to visit my local TD.

I attended my local TD’s weekly clinic, and he was able to offer me a letter of support, which proved to be the most effective one so far.

I would advise that if you find yourself hitting a brick wall, it would be a good idea to go speak to your local TD or counsellor, as they may be able to help. Each situation is different, but these people are there to help.

Anita Stefańska, PhD, University of Poznań, Poland discusses the benefits of drama and theatre in education for people with intellectual disability

Understanding, for people with intellectual disabilities, the inter-subjective relationships of the social world through drama, is a rich source of further study. Further research should also analyze theater projects through which the disabled person has the chance to show his moral attitude, which this article has sought to address.

AnitaBoosting resourcefulness and optimism in people with disabilities, by highlighting their independence and involvement in the creative process, is one of the objectives of the author’s concept of the theatre therapy named Theatre of Thought[1]. Theatrical techniques are used to help reduce resistance against the disclosure of one’s own emotional experiences, help in realising one’s beliefs, expectations and aspirations; this is in turn an expression of the behaviour involved in communication, and promotes a better understanding of each other for the participants.

Theatre provides considerable potential, with all of its connected exercises of playing, interaction and communication activities, as learning processes that go beyond the aims of theatre as art: the social learning and learning for personal growth according to the spirit of humanistic psychology. About the middle of the 1980’s, some theatre practitioners, pedagogues and therapists formed the idea of a therapeutic perspective which lay in theatre playing, and decided to explore it systematically.

Role-playing real-life situations and watching others do so allows   participants to rehearse a skill until it becomes part of their skills repertoire.


Just like all of us, cognitively impaired individuals have a life story and the need to be heard. They also have a need to create. This form of therapy employs the language of arts to promote healing and well-being. This form of therapy employs the language arts to promote healing and well being. Benefits include cognitive stimulation, reminiscence and reflection on one’s life story, a therapeutic release of life’s stressors, and facilitation of meaningful communication.

Despite their differences, drama therapy and formal theatre are moving closer together. Drama therapy also gives people the opportunity to change their life’s narratives. Creativity is the birthright of every human being.

Using experiential drama therapy and role-playing to teach emotions and body language, participants can be in control of their emotions. As in theatre class, we train them how to act in certain situations-what emotions look like. This is a safer place in which to experiment. Another strength is that drama therapy potentially uses many other modalities, including the visual arts, music, dance, poetry, and movement.

Drama Therapy/Theatre Therapy

The meaning of both terms is similar[2], sometimes used interchangeably[3]. Drama simultaneously engages the human mind and spirit. This form of therapy uses drama/theatre processes and products to achieve symptom relief, emotional and physical integration, and personal growth. It facilitates the client’s ability to tell his/her story, solve problems, set goals, express feelings appropriately, extend the depth and breadth of inner experience, improve interpersonal skills and relationships. Drama techniques – are the everyday tools of the drama teacher. They help to develop enquiry skills, to encourage negotiation, understanding and creativity. Cognitive and communication skills are maximized, creativity and individuality are fostered; and physical activity is encouraged. Such therapy builds community and strengthens self-esteem.

In drama therapy, participants acquire knowledge of themselves by creative and artistic activities, provided they participate actively. The degree of involvement in the creative process, to some extent determines the willingness to reveal the realm of their feelings, passions and dreams. It often happens that participants take on tasks that would be commonly assessed as exceeding the psychophysical capabilities of a disabled person.

The key element of drama therapy with intellectually disabled people is the focus on the person having the ability to overcome the difficulties of their lives by making independent choices. This kind of therapy requires therapists to watch how actors approach the play, how they communicate and interact with other participants, whether they are patient enough to work in a team, how they focus during the task, and in what situations they fully succumb to the sheer pleasure of doing something. These types of behaviours give the foundation for a feeling of having a positive impact on the environment, and ultimately develop confidence.

Participants viewed their satisfaction with the course differently. For some, it was achieving self-acceptance in some extraordinary situations, while for others; it is establishing positive relationships with previously unknown people. In the course of creative activities, some accumulated tension and feelings may get released, causing for some a barrier to their expression and understanding of feelings. The spontaneity of expression in theatrical techniques lowers the resistance to block the disclosure of one’s feelings. The experience of personal change in a drama group also brings the hope of transferring those skills into everyday life[4].

[1]  The author’s own concept of  The Theatre of Thought is described by the author in: A. Stefańska  Teatroterapia jako metoda kształtowania poczucia godności u osób niepełnosprawnych,   Poznań- Kalisz 2012,p.233-249

[2]A. Stefańska: Wokół podstawowych haseł teatroterapii. Cz. 1. Próba ustaleń terminologicznych.see: data dostępu 10-12.2014

[3] L. Neuman: From the German theatre therapy practice. In: L.Kossolapow, S. Scoble, D. Waller (eds.) Arts – Therapies – Communication Vol. 3. Europeran Arts Therapy. Different Approaches to a Unique Discipline Opening Regional Portals. Lit Verlag, Muenster, 2005, p. 337 -339., Mitchell S: Therapeutic theatre: a paratheatrical model for dramatherapy. In: Jennings S., (ed.) Dramatherapy, theory and practice for teachers and clinicians. 2. London, Routledge 1992.

[4] I Yalom, M.Leszcz :Psychoterapia grupowa. Teoria i Praktyka. Kraków 2006, s. 487–491.

Martin and Evelyn Conneely take us on a tour of holidays with their son Jack…


From a drawer in the wilds of Connemara to a five star hotel with a view of the pyramids, Jack, our “special” son, has had plenty of exposure to holiday experiences.

He is an only child, born in 1990- Our early holidays with Jack were with family in Galway.   We  had the use of a deserted house near Maam Cross but did not have a car and our luggage had to be minimal.  So the paraphernalia now associated with babies was not a runner for Jack.   Which is how he came to be sleeping in a drawer on his first “holiday”.  He coped well with the intermittent lack of running water in that old house and was fascinated by the spiders and the open fire.  Due to broken fences, the house was always close to invasion by sheep, an excitement he loved.  The little stream that ran through the front “lawn” of that house was a source of intense interest to him as a dam-builder.

An early digestive problem had been resolved by then and there did not seem to be any particular angles arising from his “special” status.  When foreign holidays became possible, it never occurred to us that our freedom would be less than other parents and we were also very inclined to ramble by our natures.  We had no-one to compare Jack to.  Any youngish child would need to be carefully minded anyway.  His health has also been very good for decades, which was a great help,  though we learned to always bring antibiotics as they came in handy a few times.

So Jack had his first plane journey at age 4, when we went to Spain.   From then on, he became used to planes and the pre-9/11 airport routines were not as stressful.  On planes, he loves to study the menu and order his choices.  He also participates in finding the transport to the accommodation when we arrive and the sorting out of luggage and claiming spaces.   He is by nature a water-baby and those early outdoor pools in Spain, and later France, and even a strange camp in rural Czech Republic, were a joy for him, with slides, pool games, and usually an ice-cream break.

His uncle’s London house also provided an exciting holiday venue in his very early days, where he learned to love the roundabout in Covent Garden (not to mention the delights of the ice-cream there), the Science Museum, the boats on the Thames, the British Museum, the London Transport Museum and all the other buzzes provided by London in the 1990s, when it was a little less frenetic.

Soon after buying our first car, we tried out camping in Ireland.   An early favourite was the Nore Valley Camp in Bennettsbridge, Co. Kilkenny, which includes a farm, with animal feeding and petting each morning.  He took very much to the tent and the sleeping bags and the crazy golf there.  The excitement of close access to the petting animals proved too much for him once, in his early days, and he “borrowed” a rabbit and ran back to the tent with it.   While that campsite is “strict” and would be a disappointment for those who wish to drink, dance and sing in the early hours, the watchful stance of the owners is beneficial in our circumstances.

This “Kilkenny camping” is now an annual event.  We have been joined there for many years by  his close friend, John, and our presence is not very necessary when they are a pair.  They love the freedom, the fresh air, the trailer rides and breakfast al fresco beside the tent (or in the barn-with-a-view on rainy mornings).

Dingle is another favourite camping spot, and it also provides an opportunity to meet Fungie, an acquaintance renewed annually for many years.  The boatowners in Dingle were very kind to him and he often travelled free.

Dingle---the-Fungie-substituteThe camping experience in Ireland emboldened us to try something similar in the US and Canada and we did epic journeys there, for example travelling from the top of western Canada down to Malibu in the suburbs of Los Angeles.  Jack took it all in his stride, from the wild campsite in Port Hardy where animal skulls marked out the longterm pitches of regular clients (probably fishermen or loggers who came and went at intervals) to the camping site in Malibu Creek National where MASH was filmed long before we camped there.

We also did the conventional stuff, like a studio visit to Warner Brothers, the LA Tour of Celebrity Houses , presenting each other with fake Oscars outside the Kodak Cinema in Hollywood, walking  across the Golden Gate Bridge and,  when in Cape Cod, whale watching.   Boston’s Duck Tour was also a hit with all of us.

Jack, Evelyn and Martin-at Lake Louise, CanadaAs intrepid travellers, the three of us have also shared hairy moments.  A bear alert woke us one night in Yosemite, we overturned on a raft in the Czech Republic, a park bench was under serious consideration as a bed when we misread an Italian train timetable and had no connection at midnight, we lost our car in Siena for hours (a habit we also acquired in Dublin Airport until Jack copped on about taking a photo of the row and letter when we parked), torrential rains and winds have smashed our tents, and mosquitoes and other bugs have tortured us.  But we’ve made it this far.

Jack and ourselves loved our marathon Egyptian odyssey – six flights, a river Nile cruise, a tour of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, a week in Luxor with King Tut’s gaff just across the river from us, and up at dawn to visit the Valley of the Kings, the searing heat of Aswan and a tour of the famous High Dam built in the 1960s to control flooding on the Nile.

He became a connoisseur of aquariums, being very impressed by the one in San Francisco and adoring the Beluga whales in the Vancouver Aquarium.  There had been so many greatest hits, that the outstanding Genoa Aquarium was nearly a chink too wide.  Vancouver’s Stanley Island was the scene of his young “driving test” in a non-mechanically propelled vehicle in the playground, and the “Licence” he got was a source of great pride.

He has experienced the great art galleries, the Uffizi in Florence, the Prado and Reina Sofia in Madrid, Vatican Museums and Sistine and the Peggy Guggenheim in Venice and the other Guggenheim in New York City.  He pondered quizzically  The Kiss by Rodin in Paris and the Calder mobiles in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and was so impressed by Jasper Johns that he bought a print of his flag for his bedroom, where it still hangs.  He was even in the Louvre and in Monet’s gardens before birth as we visited Paris less than three months before he was born.  Since being born, he’s made it back to Paris several times, and had the thrill of visiting Paris Disneyland when still young enough to be bowled over by it all.

The cultural wing of our travels has made him open to Dublin events in that line, too.  He even went to see Krapp’s Last Tape with us in the Gate, probably the youngest Beckett fan there and the one who laughed loudest at the banana skin incident.   As Michael Gambon played Krapp, but also Dumbledore in Harry Potter, Jack was thrilled to shake hands with him in the bar afterwards.

Back in Ireland, as we aged, we’ve got fonder of hotel breaks and Jack has learnt the “grammar” of booking into hotels, the layout of the facilities, is ever alert for in-room mini-bars and, in recent times, the availability of wifi.  As a natural keep-fit fanatic, he really appreciates hotel pools and gyms.  Though for many years we would supervise him in such situations, he is now semi-autonomous and would be far superior to either of us in terms of fitness and sport.   In hotel gyms, with an age policy, we used to have to be on hand to prove his age (though he might be another age at reception to get him sharing the same room as us!).

Having found an ideal place to stay in Abenga, in Italy, in recent years, we paid a number of return visits and Jack got totally familiar with the layout there.  In general, he picks up directions and routines very quickly and we probably underestimate his abilities in that line sometimes.

Because of our natural inclinations, travel was going to be a big part of the shared lives of the three of us.   But having seen how it has given Jack confidence and provided an informal education in timetabling, reading, problem-solving, confidence-building, and the successful pursuit of happiness, we would recommend it as a way of boosting the lives of those with special needs who are able for it.

Author Bio

Martin, Evelyn and Jack Conneely live in Castleknock, Dublin 15 (when they are not out and about taking in the best the world has to offer).