"Everyone needs friends". Friendships of pupils with intellectual disabilities

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa, Martti Ahtisaari -sali (L2)

Topic of the dissertation

"Everyone needs friends". Friendships of pupils with intellectual disabilities

Doctoral candidate

Master of Education Marjo-Rita Mäkäräinen

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Education, Teachers, Teaching and Educational Communities

Subject of study

Special education


Docent, Senior Lecturer Raija Pirttimaa, University of Jyväskylä


Professor Marjatta Takala, Faculty of Education, University of Oulu

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"Everyone needs friends" Friendships of pupils with intellectual disabilities

Experiencing friendship is important for most people. Establishing and maintaining friendships is not as easy for everyone, and not everyone has equal opportunities to do so. People with intellectual disabilities face various challenges associated with forming, establishing, and maintaining friendships. The current study makes the voice of intellectually disabled pupils and their parents heard and expands the understanding of friendships and related challenges among pupils with intellectual disabilities, as well as different ways to support friendship.

The data of this qualitative study consist of a semi-structured survey of parents (N = 107) and thematic interviews (N = 10), ethnographic data collected in a special school, an observation diary (N = 131 episodes), writings of pupils with intellectual disabilities (N = 5) and discussions with them. All data were analyzed using thematic design and content analysis.

According to the results, the school was an important place for pupils with intellectual disabilities to be together with friends. Most pupils with intellectual disabilities had friends at school. Conversely, in their leisure, friends were more often found in family members rather than peers. The students who participated in the study hoped for the continuity of friendships and for more opportunities to meet friends in their spare time. The parents felt it was important for their children with intellectual disabilities to have friends and raised concerns about their children’s few friendships and lack of opportunities to meet friends. Supporting the friendships of a pupil with intellectual disability requires concrete action both from the family and at different levels of society. The most important role in supporting friendships is held by the parents and school staff.

This dissertation complements current research data on the friendships of pupils with intellectual disabilities in the light of ecological systems theory, providing practical information on how friendships can be supported in more diverse ways than before, thereby positively affecting the quality of life and experiences of inclusion among schoolchildren with intellectual disabilities.
Last updated: 23.1.2024