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Paving the Way

Early intervention for children with learning disabilities whose behaviours challenge

FRIENDS for Life: Promoting emotional resilience

By Jane Woodrow posted on 06/04/18

It remains a sobering fact that children and young people with learning disabilities are more likely to face emotional and behavioural difficulties than other children, but less likely to receive appropriate care.

The Green Paper ‘Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision’ (available here) prioritises earlier intervention, prevention and the role of schools and colleges in mental health.  It has a particular focus on children in need and those with vulnerabilities and/or special educational needs or disabilities (SEND). It highlights the need to develop resilience.

Hopefully this will be good news for children and young people with learning disabilities, their families and networks.  One change we would like to see would be more use of evidence-based programmes for promoting emotional resilience and well-being in children and young people with learning disabilities and/or autism, particularly “Special FRIENDS” and the “FRIENDS for Life- Learning Disabilities” guidance.

FRIENDS for Life enables children and young people learn to identify and manage difficult thoughts and feelings, and overcome problems rather than avoid them.  Since 2012, a group of practitioners have been adapting FRIENDS activities and resources in a way which works for children and young people with learning disabilities. A parallel group published Special FRIENDS in 2015 for those with autism.

FRIENDS for Life focuses on themes of, and builds skills in:

F = Feelings

R = Remember to relax

I = I can do it, I can try

E = Explore solutions and coping step-plans

N = Now reward yourself, you’ve done your best

D = Do practice

S = Smile, stay calm, use your support networks

The FRIENDS acronym is a useful framework for remembering the skills.

Feedback has been really positive.  For example, one teacher found that the sessions resulted in a number of changes including “use of newly acquired coping skills, less signs of challenging behaviour, fewer incidents of walking out of lesson” A family carer found they were better able to support their child’s anxiety because” He can now label [his emotions] and find appropriate strategies to cope with them”

“We need to be doing much more of this type of work. In the current climate of the crisis in Children’s Mental Health Services, we need investment and support for developing the resources and the evidence that these approaches can work and they can help improve the lives of CYP with LD and their families.”

Jane Woodrow, Lead Clinical Psychologist, CAMHS LD/Family Intensive Support Service, Sussex Partnership Trust

Hopefully the Green Paper will be good news for children and young people with learning disabilities and the increased use of Special FRIENDS and FRIENDS for Life- Learning Disabilities to promote their emotional resilience and well-being.

You can find the full version of this article, with more details, on the resources section of our website here .

If you are interested in attending Special FRIENDS/FRIENDS.LD training courses facilitated by licensed FRIENDS for Life trainers, Gemma Slack and Orlaith Donnelly, visit:

The revised guidance can be found here: FRIENDS for Life: Building Resilience and Emotional Well-being: Practical Guidance on Adapting FRIENDS for Life to Increase Participation For Children and Young People with Learning Disabilities.


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