Dear Áine

Desperately seeking

I am desperate and I need your help. I am a staff member and working in an institution with a 30-year-old man who has a general learning difficulty (mild mental handicap) and severe cerebral palsy. He can speak fairly well but is slow getting his words out. He has a good vocabulary and one can have a decent conversation with him. He needs help with eating and drinking, but has good use of his electric wheelchair indoors. He is nervous in public and is more comfortable with his manual chair when he is outside in the community.

The organisation is shortly planning to have accommodation in the community for a number of its clients. I think my client would be very suited to live outside as he has lots of interests. However, those in authority tell me that he will not be able to move out, as he has no real friends—only staff, former staff or relatives of staff. What can I do to help him get friends? His family have no interest in him and only visit when embarrassed by staff into doing so. You are my last hope. Please help.


I am shocked at the implicit criteria or your agency in deciding whether somebody would make a successful transition to life in the community. From your letter it appears to me that your organisation does not attempt to support its service users to develop friendships. Surely life in the community will afford him more opportunities to make friends than he has at the moment. There are organisations such as the Forum of People with Disabilities who hold regular meetings and who might be a source of information or even support. Why couldn’t he be supported to attend such meetings? What are his particular interests? If you know what they are—maybe music?—then maybe you or the Forum may link him in with people who have similar interests. People in the Forum must have come across these issues before and may be able to link him into a support network. The Forum may also be able to identify a person who may be able to advocate on his behalf. There are people with far greater levels of disabilities who have successfully made the transition to community life. I wonder why do we assume that this person cannot be as successful?

Moving out?

Our daughter is 21. She attended special school until she was 18 and did quite well. She can read but her mathematical ability is poor. She recognises coins and notes and talks as if she understands money, but her knowledge of value is not good so she is quite vulnerable. She is now attending a cookery course under FÁS and seems happy with it. She lives at home with us, but most of her fellow students in FÁS are in hostels. She goes to and from her course independently. She is also capable of looking after herself in the areas of washing etc., but is not very reliable—she needs reminding to shower, change her clothes etc.

The problem is that she wants to be treated as an adult by us, but we do not think she is reliable enough to get the freedom an adult gets. She does not always come home from her course and sometimes stays away for the night. She has a mobile phone, but she never lets us know where she is. She has taken taxis on her own very late at night; luckily she has always met decent people. She has booked into rented accommodation at night and again nothing happened. She wants to leave home but we do not think she is ready. She will not be considered for a hostel, as there are more needy and deserving people on the waiting list. Life at home is miserable and full of arguments when she is around—most, but not all of the time. We are both at our wits’ end. It is affecting everything. Please, please can you help?


Other parents of young adults with general learning difficulties share the concerns you express. All too frequently young people, when they get to this age, are acutely aware of their rights, but have little appreciation of their limitations, and are, as a result, socially very vulnerable. Some agencies operate an ‘after-care service’. It may be worth your while contacting your daughter’s previous service for advice and practical support. It is unlikely your daughter will want to listen to you or your husband. It is not unusual for a young adult to ignore their parents’ concerns and advice! However they may be far more receptive to counselling from an independent third party professional whom they perceive as empathic and understanding. Your daughter’s former service may well be able to provide you with, or put you in contact with, such a person. Furthermore, a hostel may not be the only alternative living arrangement for your daughter. You might consider contacting her previous service provider; they may have other options of residential support available—a house share, flat-share or digs. I would hope such a professional third party could work with your daughter to discover realistically the most suitable option for her.


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