TO make friends and build relationships is difficult for many, but for those with learning and physical challenges it can be even more so.
That is something two local mothers know only two well. Jane Atkinson, from Sway, and Barbara O’Dwyer, from Kinson, both have children with high-functioning autism.
They have watched as George and Josie have struggled to find romance and, more importantly, build a wide friendship circle.
It was after the two women successfully set up George and Josie on a blind date that the idea for a new charity was born. Called the Positive Path Foundation it offers people with physical and learning challenges a way of finding friends, socialise with groups and maybe find a partner.
A recent study revealed that only 32% of adults with autism are in relationships while just 9% are married –compared with 50% of adults who do not have the condition.
But it is not just romance that people with physical and learning challenges struggle with, finding and keeping good friends can be a problem too.
Jane, who runs Positive Path play therapy all over the UK, helping children with autism, said: “Everyone deserves the opportunity and has the right to make friends and have romances. They should not have to endure a life of loneliness.
“George is really sociable and loves being around people. He is very kind and caring,and is really into sport and music, typical for anyone of his age.
“He has a really good friend that he gets on fantastically well with but expanding that to a wider social circle is proving hard. There are no social groups for people like George or Josie in the New Forest, or even the whole of the UK.”
Josie (24) faces similar problems, although mum Barbara said: “She is very sociable; she loves singing and dancing. Josie goes to a lot of things like theatre school and the local leisure centre.
“She is very independent and wants to go out a lot.
“But she is also very vulnerable. Just going into Bournemouth on public transport can be a problem for her.”
George (21), who is studying for a diploma in child health and social care at Brockenhurst College, and Josie, who wants to work with children when she finishes her studies, are now founding members of the Positive Path Foundation which will organise trips to the cinema, live gigs, bowling, theatre and eating out. All events will be chaperoned and held in a safe environment.
One of the other reasons the mothers set up the foundation is the fear of what will happen to their children when they are no longer here.
Barbara said: “I want Josie to live an independent life. If she meets friends and has support from them, it will reassure me she can cope without me.”
Jane agreed, saying: “You do worry about the future, I want George to be happy, with a close network of friends he can call on for help if he needs it. I want him to go out and live as independent a life as possible. Having a good friendship circle will help him with that.”
To help people with their independence the charity will also be offering cookery classes and other life skills workshops.
To find out more or join, visit positivepathfoundation.org. All members donate £10 a month to the foundation which will give them access to a whole host of events and activities.
On 14th March next year the charity is holding a fundraising event at Fishers Pond, Colden Common, comprising a three-course dinner, live entertainment and an auction. The cost is £35.