Circle of Friends (disabled care)

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The Circle of Friends approach is a method designed to increase the socialization and inclusion of a disabled person with their peers. A Circle of Friends consists of a "focus" child, for whom the group was established, six to eight classroom peers, and an adult facilitator who meet once weekly to socialize and work on specific goals. Most available resources about the Circle of Friends approach are geared toward its use with school-aged children with various difficulties.


Circle of Friends was originally developed in North America to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities and other difficulties in their local communities and in mainstream educational settings.[1][2][3] In the past, it was more common for adults with disabilities to be confined to institutions, and for students with special educational needs to be educated in separate schools.[4] The Circle of Friends approach coincides with a shift in societal attitudes toward inclusion of people with disabilities in mainstream settings. It is intended to promote healthy friendships and to create and reinforce positive social experiences.

Although it was developed in North America, Circle of Friends has been implemented and researched extensively in the United Kingdom in a variety of settings, and with children of varying ages and difficulties.[3][5][6][7][8] The approach is often used for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) because they have trouble developing social and communication skills.[3] In general, children with emotional, behavioral and social problems may benefit from the approach because they are often isolated and lack peer groups.[5][7][9]


In the educational setting, general guidelines exist for establishing a Circle of Friends.[3][7][8][10]

  • Establishment of prerequisites: Before starting a Circle of Friends, it is necessary to ensure the cooperation and collaboration of school personnel (e.g. principals, teacher) and obtain consent from the focus child’s parents or caregivers.
  • Class discussion to set up the Circle of Friends: The next step is to meet with the focus child’s class. The focus child consents to this meeting but does not attend so that class members feel comfortable sharing information. The class discussion is meant to introduce the idea of a Circle of Friends. Students are encouraged to think about the benefits of friendship and consider the barriers to friendship the focus child encounters, and also empathize and share their own experiences with friendship. The focus child’s strengths and difficulties are discussed, and links between the focus child’s behavior and problems with peer relationships are made. Making these links is an important first step in problem solving solutions. At the close of the meeting, six to eight volunteers are sought to take part in the Circle of Friends.
  • Initial meeting of the Circle of Friends: At the initial Circle of Friends meeting, details of the class discussion are summarized for the focus child. Ground rules for the group are then set (i.e. confidentiality, listening, seeking adult help when needed), as well as a schedule for meetings.
  • Weekly meetings of the Circle of Friends: At weekly meetings, classmates play an important role in helping the focus child set and reach goals. Some research suggests that all children involved in the Circle of Friends benefit from the experience and not just the focus child.[5]

Adapted versions of Circle of Friends exist. One version differs from the original approach in that the focus child is not absent for the initial class meeting.[6] Others have described Circle of Friends meetings taking place on a daily basis.[11]


  1. ^ Leicestershire County Council, England. Autism Outreach Team, Circle of Friends. Retrieved April 20, 2010
  2. ^ The National Autistic Society: Circle of Friends – Promoting inclusion and interaction. Retrieved April 20, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d Whitaker, P., Barratt, P., Joy, H., Potter, M., & Thomas, G. (1998). Children with autism and peer group support: Using "circles of friends". British Journal of Special Education, 25, 60–64.
  4. ^ Frederickson, N. & Turner, J. (2003). Utilizing the classroom peer group to address children's social needs: An evaluation of the Circle of Friends intervention approach. The Journal of Special Education, 36, 234-245.
  5. ^ a b c Newton, C., Taylor, G., & Wilson, D. (1996). Circles of Friends: An inclusive approach to meeting emotional and behavioural needs. Educational Psychology in Practice, 11, 41-48.
  6. ^ a b Shotton, G. (1998). A Circles of Friends approach for socially neglected children. Educational Psychology in Practice, 14, 22-25.
  7. ^ a b c Taylor, G. (1996). Creating a Circle of Friends: A case study. In H. Cowie & S. Sharp (Eds.), Peer counselling in schools. London: Barry Fulton.
  8. ^ a b Taylor, G. (1997). Community building in schools: Developing a 'circle of friends.' Educational and Child Psychology, 14, 45-50.
  9. ^ Pearpoint, J., Forest, M., & Snow, J. (1992). The inclusion papers. Toronto: Inclusion Press.
  10. ^ Frederickson, N., Warren, L. & Turner, J. (2005). "Circle of Friends" – An exploration of impact over time. Educational Psychology in Practice, 21, 197-217
  11. ^ Texas Autism Research Guide for Effective Teaching (TARGET) Archived 2011-07-24 at the Wayback Machine. Interventions: Circle of Friends. Retrieved April 20, 2010, from .

Barrett, W. & Randall, L. (2004). Investigating the Circle of Friends approach: Adaptations and Implications for Practice. Educational Psychology in Practice, 20, 353-368.

Newton, C. and Wilson, D. : Creating Circles of Friends, Inclusive Solutions (2010)

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