Friday is Valentine’s Day, a day when many people focus on their relationships, whether with a spouse or partner, a child or sibling, or close friends. Having a disability can present challenges to social interactions, even in close relationships. When that relationship includes caregiving, the challenges can seem daunting.
We looked at resources from the NIDILRR community and elsewhere which may help people with disabilities, their families, and friends muddle through the tough times and strengthen their relationships.
The first step for some people may be getting out into the community, meeting people, making friends, and building relationships with people who may understand their experience.
- The Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC) has information for burn survivors on the challenges of social interactions after burn injury and ways to address them.
- The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Community Living and Participation of People with Serious Mental Illness (TU Collaborative) suggests identifying welcoming places in the community to make connections and offers the Welcoming Places Calendar for 2020. “We believe that welcoming places are important for encouraging sustained participation in the community. The calendar features descriptions of welcoming places and challenges you to set goals and engage in your welcoming place! Make 2020 the year you identify your welcoming place!”
- For people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, social inclusion means more than just getting out there, it means being included in community life and playing a valued role in church, school, or another social group. Learn more about Social inclusion and community living for people with IDD from the Research and Training Center on Community Living and check out Friends: Connecting People with Disabilities and Community Members, a manual providing concrete, “how-to” strategies for supporting relationships between people with disabilities and other community members. It describes why such friendships are important to people with disabilities and why it is important to promote community belonging and membership.
- Does your friend group include people with similar lived experience with disability? The RRTC on Aging with Long-Term Physical Disabilities surveyed people with disabilities and discovered there are significant benefits to having friends with similar disabilities.
Love, Intimacy, and Long-Term Relationships
(Note: The content on these websites may include frank discussion of sex and sexuality.)
Are you in a long-term relationship? Does your or your partner’s disability present challenges in communication, intimacy, or other areas of your relationship?
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can have a significant impact on a partnership, with changes in mood, physical function, and cognitive ability all taking a toll on the stability of the relationship. MSKTC shares resources about TBI and relationships and how couples can work with therapists to address challenges. Explore this topic further with Sexual Functioning and Satisfaction After Traumatic Brain Injury: An Educational Manual, from the Texas TBI Model System of TIRR.
- Spinal cord injury (SCI) can also impact a relationship, from loss of physical and sexual functioning to the mental and emotional stresses of living with paralysis. MSKTC tackles the topics with factsheets and videos on Sexuality after SCI. The Northwest SCI Model System Center forum panel discussions have tackled this subject with Love and Marriage after SCI, It Happened to Both of Us: Conversations with Couples, and Conversations from the Bedroom: Sex after SCI.
- The TU Collaborative highlights the importance of sexuality and intimate relationships for people with mental health conditions, and assembled a Sexuality and Intimacy Toolkit to help providers discuss these issues with their clients.
- The RRTC on Aging with Long-Term Physical Disabilities’ survey asked participants about the importance of sexual function, satisfaction, and use of aids for sexual activity and developed Tips for your Sex Life (Spoiler alert: talking is at the top of the list).
The Long-Term Caregiving Relationship
Almost 20% of the US population is in a caregiving relationship with a family member or friend who has a disability, a chronic condition, or is aging. The caregiving part of the relationship can have an impact on the other parts of the relationship, whether romantic, familial, or friendship.
- Taking care of the caregiver can go a long way to keeping the relationship strong and healthy. The RRTC on Learning and Working During the Transition to Adulthood reminds everyone that For Families or Caregivers Self Care is Putting YOUR Oxygen Mask on First.
- The Northwest SCI Model System Center held a forum to hear from the caregiver side: Caregivers: Perspectives from those providing care.
- The RRTC on Family Support conducted research to understand the needs of families in caregiving relationships. They identified promising practices in family support across the lifespan, including resources to foster deeper connections and partnerships among families and friends who provide care and supports.
These are just a few examples of the resources developed by the NIDILRR grantee community to support people with disabilities as they expand their social circles, find and build loving relationships, and maintain those relationships over the long term.
Whether you’re celebrating with friends, family, your partner, or some quiet time/self-care, we wish you a very Happy Valentine’s Day!