How a circle of support can help spread the load

“No person is an island.”

This is particularly true when it comes to living with a disability or supporting someone with a disability. Creating a circle of support so you have the right people in your corner can make a real difference to your quality of life.

Building up a reliable, trusted support crew and then keeping those relationships going takes some effort. People come and go; everyone leads busy lives. But it’s worth it.

Here, we look at some strategies to help you build a circle of support. You’ll have the peace of mind in knowing that, if you need help at any stage, it’s only ever a phone call or text away.

What is a circle of support?

A circle of support is a group of people that share a common goal: to contribute to the wellbeing of another person. They might hold regular meetings or communicate in a WhatsApp group or another communication channel. Or maybe they are simply available when needed.

Beyond being there for the person with a disability, a circle of support can also give primary carers reassurance. They know that they’ve got trusted people to fall back on or bounce ideas off when new issues or concerns come up.

Three concentric circles in shades of blue. The smallest circle is dark blue with the words 'Person with a disability' in white text. The middle circle is light blue with the words 'Family and friends' in white text. The largest circle is pale blue with the words 'Professional supports and services' in black text.

So, who can be in a circle of support?
It might be:

  • The person with a disability;
  • Their family members and friends; and
  • Health professionals, support workers, schoolteachers or childcare specialists where appropriate.

Online groups and parent circles set up by people in a similar situation can be a great source of comfort and encouragement, too.

How does it help?

The idea behind a circle of support is to spread the load, taking some of the pressure off the primary carer. Having a good mix of family, friends and professionals in your circle can make things easier. You’ll have help as you make decisions, source information and get things done that reflect the needs and wishes of the person you’re supporting.

Some of the things that might get discussed in a circle of support include:

  • What the person with a disability wants or needs in their life;
  • What needs to change in their life to help them get what they want; and
  • Who can do what to help them achieve their goals?

For example, Joe is a teenager with an intellectual disability. He wants to get a job so he can be more independent. Joe’s mother, Beth, worries about how Joe would cope in a workplace and doesn’t know where to start.

Beth calls on her circle of support for guidance. One of Joe’s teachers knows a disability employment service in the local area and arranges a meeting for Joe. The teacher offers to attend the meeting with Joe and Beth.

Joe gets a part-time job at a café a few suburbs away. A close friend works nearby and offers to help transport Joe to his job. Joe’s doctor, again in the circle, is going to talk to the employer before Joe starts to outline his needs and to check in after Joe’s been working for a few weeks.

All this help – from all different angles – greatly reduces Beth’s concerns. And it takes the pressure off Beth doing everything involved in Joe getting a job.

Read Vanessa and Dean’s story about the importance of having a network of support.

Creating your circle

Think that having a group of people around you could benefit your life?

If someone in your life has a disability and you would like to create a circle of support to look after their needs into the future, start to think about who you should invite. Choose people who have the skills and qualities to best support the person with a disability. Remember these people will continue to build support skills and a rapport with you and the person with a disability.

A circle of support will naturally evolve as the person with a disability moves through their life. That’s OK. You can invite new people to join the circle, and they may bring fresh skills and perspective to the group.