Transition to Retirement: A Guide to Inclusive Practice: Adaptations for the Current U.S. Context

Chapter 5: Locating a Group for an Individual

Chapter 5 explains:

  • how to locate a suitable group for a specific individual with IDD
  • important factors that contribute to a good match
  • issues to be considered when introducing the person to the group
  • the process of supporting the person to go to their first group meeting

Adaptations for the Current U.S. Context

Finding the Right Group for an Individual

Matching the Person’s Interests. An essential dimension of choosing a community group is finding a group that matches the person’s interests and other preferences as closely as possible. This is relatively straightforward when the person can communicate clear preferences, but many individuals do not know clearly what they would like. For example, Brotherton et al. (2023, p. 1020) reported:

“The other seven participants (58%) were unsure of what they wanted to do, meaning a critical component of their individual program was the opportunity to explore and directly experience different activity options before choosing one. This exploration required extra time and support before choosing a preferred activity.”

Given the well-documented lack of awareness among older workers of the activities available in their community (e.g., Bigby et al., 2011; Brotherton et al., 2020; 2023) this activity sampling approach is a logical way to support informed choice among individuals who have little idea of what community activity they would prefer.

The original TTR approach as presented in the TTR manual was to introduce the person to one available community group that matched their activity interests as closely as was feasible. Only if this initial group did not work out (which was rare) was the person then introduced to a different group. That is, there was no activity sampling to support informed choice among several different community groups. Activity sampling worked effectively for Brotherton et al. (2023) and clearly facilitates more informed choice, so we would recommend the activity sampling approach for future TTR implementation involving individuals who have no clear activity preference.

A Good Match. The TTR manual (pp. 54–55) lists several factors that can result in a good match between an individual and a community group, such as interest, gender, age/frailty, and group culture.

Several other issues should also be considered when judging the appropriateness of a match. These include the person’s stated or observed preferences about age group, language spoken, ethnicity, etc. (see Appendix B Forms, TTR Retirement Lifestyle Planning Form where we set out a series of specific issues to be discussed in the TTR planning meeting to help identify a suitable community group).

A match between the activities available at the community group and the person’s interests is one important factor but a social match with other members is also vital. The person should feel comfortable and safe in the group, and have positive, reciprocal social interactions with (at least some) other group members.

Competitive or Non-Competitive Activities?

Competitive activities often place pressure on participants to perform skillfully or quickly. Perceived poor performance may lead to frustration or criticism from others (e.g., teammates). The person could feel upset, unwelcome, and unsupported that their efforts were not seen as good enough.

Research indicates that choosing a mainstream group with non-competitive activities where all ability levels are accepted and valued is more often a successful approach (Bigby & Wiesel, 2019; Brotherton, 2022). If, however, the individual’s chosen activity has an inherent degree of competitiveness, especially in team activities where one team member’s performance affects other members, competitive pressures may need to be reduced or managed in some agreed way.

Companions for Socially Inclusive Community Activities

As the title of Chapter 5 indicates, the TTR approach is based on an individual with IDD joining a community group or volunteering. There is solid research evidence to support the success of this approach for older workers in sheltered employment (Stancliffe et al., 2015) and in mainstream employment (Brotherton et al., 2023). The TTR emphasis on going alone was intended to help ensure that the person is included as an individual and not seen merely as one of a group of people with disabilities.

However, recent research about socially inclusive participation in mainstream community groups and religious services by adults with IDD (Stancliffe et al., 2023), shows that 90% or more go to these activities with companions. This finding may partly be due to the need for practical support for attendance (e.g., transportation), but in many cases the motivation may simply be a wish for companionship and/or social support. For example, Stancliffe et al. (2023) found that one third of older (45+) people with IDD attending a mainstream community group went with friends. For some people, the type of activity at the group may be less important than who they go with. For these individuals, the relationship may trump the activity.

Therefore, we recommend relaxing the requirement that the person attend their community group individually (i.e., alone), by also considering whether the person would like to have a companion, such as a good friend. With this in mind, we propose a series of additional issues related to companions for discussion at the TTR planning meeting (see Appendix B Forms section).

Attending a mainstream community group alone or with a friend are both positive outcomes, which may have slightly differing benefits. Going alone may make the development of new relationships more likely. Attending with a friend may strengthen that existing relationship (see Stancliffe et al., 2023). There is clear research evidence that taking part in a mainstream community group or religious services each are associated with consistently better friendship outcomes (Stancliffe et al., 2023).

A word of caution is needed. Bigby and Wiesel (2019) reported that group outings of people with IDD hampered social interaction with community members. This commonly observed barrier to social inclusion means that while going to a mainstream community group alone or with a friend is fine, attending with a larger group of people with IDD (and disability staff) usually gets in the way of true inclusion.

Problems with Disability Staff as Companions

The TTR Coordinator’s* role is to provide initial intensive support with planning and implementation for community group participation, but to fade out their involvement over time, with volunteer mentors (other members of the community group) taking over the routine support of the person with IDD at the group.

There can be an expectation that a disability staff member should often/always be present to provide support and just in case something goes wrong. We think this expectation is misguided. There are sound reasons why disability staff should not routinely be present at the group:

  • staff presence can undermine the person’s actual and perceived independence
  • staff presence can interfere with social interactions and relationships at the group (e.g., group members talk to the staff member, not the person with IDD)

Support at home from staff and/or family is invaluable to support the person to be ready on time to go to their group with all needed items, and if necessary to provide transportation. However, apart from a quick liaison with mentors and group leaders during drop-offs or pick-ups, we recommend that staff should not remain at the group.

TTR Coordinator

*Like the TTR manual, we use the term TTR Coordinator to refer to a specialist disability staff member who has responsibility for initial planning, support, and training of the person with IDD when first joining a community group and for ongoing monitoring and support as needed. In circumstances where a TTR Coordinator is not available, other involved people (e.g., family, case manager, guardian) will need to take on these roles and/or find someone else to do so.