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Healthy Relationships For Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilties

Jessica Shouse, Adult Advocacy Specialist
Posted 10/13/17

The Arc of Larimer County, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and The Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center (SAVA) recently partnered together to host a two evening Healthy Relationship & Sexuality 101 workshop for adults living with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Our goal is to empower self-advocates to be able to take control over their own lives, make decisions, problem solve and speak for themselves in regards to relationships and sexuality. Adults with I/DD have said clearly:  We want to have relationships- of our own choosing, in our own time frame, and shaped by our own values. As family members, caregivers, friends and professionals we want to support individuals with I/DD to have healthy relationships. The number one thing to encourage is, “My body, my choice.” Here are three tips that were covered during the workshop that you can use when supporting someone around the area of relationships and sexuality, because hey, we all have these feelings at some point in our lives.

1. Support the person to understand boundaries within different types of relationships. We all have many different types of relationships in our lives including friends, family, helping professionals, and strangers. Our interactions look different with each of these. It is important to understand what types of feelings and touch are appropriate with each group.

2. Support the person to understand what are public vs private spaces and what behaviors are appropriate in each one. Public is when other people are there or might be there. It is a place where people can go in and out and can see in and out of. Private is when you are alone and no one can come in or out. Discuss different situations and scenarios that occur in each setting.

3. Consent and personal safety. We teach that consent, or permission, needs to be given for any type of touch, including a hug or a kiss with a family member. Consent should be a whole body “yes”.  When saying yes to someone or something, you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable or icky; you should feel good about it on the inside and outside. When discussing personal safety, we review and practice being assertive and different ways to say “No.” For example, “Please stop.” “I don’t like that.” Again, role playing various situations is very beneficial.

Relationships and sexuality can be a complex and difficult topic, but it’s important to make sure that adults with I/DD have the tools necessary to form all kinds of healthy relationships. We are here to support you to navigate and have these important conversations. Please contact Jessica Shouse, Adult Advocacy Specialist, for more information on future workshops or to be connected to additional resources.

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