Listen. Be honest. Commit. Laugh. Learn. Grow.

To launch National Learning Disability Week 2016, Janette Gaffney and Mary Schumm, Directors of Learning Disabilities, discuss this year’s theme of ‘relationships’ and why it is so important that we all work together so that people we support are able to live the life they want to lead.

We naturally seek to fill our lives with people around us. How many and who depends entirely on each person, but everyone has a fundamental need for human interaction and connections. When relationships and networks become more complex – often when professional support services are involved, it becomes all the more important that the people involved work together to make sure that the dynamics remain positive, supportive and productive.

A supportive network around someone provides many benefits which would be difficult to find alone. At the heart of the network is the person being supported, taking people in the direction that they want to go. They bring people together – friends and family, colleagues, support workers and other professionals and many others providing support, love, laughter, tears, honesty, excitement and much, much more.

Dynamics between people can vary enormously and this is the same within a support network. Some are harmonious and supportive; everyone gets on well with each other and understands the joint goals that they are working towards. Others do not come together so easily. People can disagree and argue a lot and people can feel like they no longer have control and that they are not listened to.

Last week, Certitude was proud to attend the launch of Learning Disability England – a new strong voice for people with learning disabilities, their families and friends and organisations. We wholeheartedly support Learning Disability England’s vision that “we are all Stronger, Louder, Together!”

So what does this mean for all of us? What can we do to make sure that we are supportive and work together – with people with learning disabilities, with their families and friends and with each other and in doing so become stronger – and louder?

Listen. Listen to each other. Everyone is important and vital to making sure that the goals and aspirations of the person at the heart of it all are being worked towards and achieved. Central to this means making sure the persons own voice is heard loudest of all!

Be honest. The strongest relationships are built on honesty and trust, and this is the responsibility of everyone. Some messages are not easy to deliver, but trust has never been built on a base of secrecy. Sharing information can also help prevent possible issues from arising in future.

Commit. Members of the strongest communities are committed to the well-being and happiness of the other members, valuing unity over division. This means that family and friends, colleagues, support staff, healthcare workers and anybody else should all be committed to the well-being and happiness of each other and, most importantly, the person being supported.

Laugh. If taken too seriously, relationships can become tense, enjoyment can be lost. Laughter lowers stress and can help you relax; it can ease anxiety and fear and improve people’s resilience. It can strengthen relationships, diffuse conflict and help promote bonding. People that laugh together can view the world from a more relaxed, positive, creative, joyful and balanced perspective.

Learn. Everyone is learning throughout their lives – nobody stops – and we can certainly learn a lot from the people around us. Sharing knowledge and being open to new ideas helps people progress and achieve their goals.

Grow. Everyone changes over time as they learn and their experiences begin to shape them and their lives. Growing and learning can lead to new experiences and places for people. Looking at things with open eyes and an open mind can help people to grow together and bring the new experiences that follow.

At Certitude, we commit to listening, being honest, continuously learning and growing with the people around us. This way, we can all work together so that people we support and their families become stronger and louder and are able to live the life they want to lead: happy, healthy and respected as equals.

Janette Gaffney and Mary Schumm