Building and Maintaining Relationships | Emmaus Homes

Building and Maintaining Relationships

by | Feb 7, 2024 | Client Success, Emmaus, Get Involved, What We Do

For all of us, building and maintaining relationships is a delicate art that requires understanding our individual needs, boundaries, and the context in which these connections unfold. With Valentine’s Day approaching, we took some time to talk with Emmaus staff about the work of helping our clients navigate relationships. They highlighted the importance of empathy, safety, and education.

Individuals with developmental disabilities, regardless of their background or abilities, are, first and foremost, human beings with the same desires, emotions, and the capacity for meaningful connections. Understanding this fundamental truth is crucial for supporting them in fostering healthy and life-giving relationships. People with IDD may express themselves in ways that reflect their personal inclinations, which do include romantic dimensions.

Encouraging friendships and relationships among individuals with IDD is a positive aspect of ensuring they have a holistic life. However, it is equally important to establish clear boundaries and educate individual clients on what constitutes a healthy relationship. Emmaus Direct Support Professionals are trained to encourage clients when they desire to pursue a relationship and provide support when they hit roadblocks, especially when dating online. Andrew, a former DSP, shared his experience with clients and their relationships. He provides support, helping clients understand healthy relationships, guidance on vetting online connections, and offering support if things don’t go well. While he is hands-on in those moments, he also explained how important it is to give each client their independence and allow them the freedom and space they want. 

Ensuring safety is paramount. This involves verifying the authenticity of communication, watching for signs of abuse or neglect, and being vigilant about maintaining a secure environment. While many individuals may already possess a good sense of boundaries, others may need verbal instruction on what constitutes a healthy relationship.

People with disabilities are individuals with the same desires and emotions as anyone else. Challenging stigmas, such as the belief that they shouldn’t reproduce or are unsuitable for relationships, is essential. One initiative that exemplifies this proactive approach is the SHADE Program (Sexual Health and Disability Education). This program offers individual and group classes focusing on abuse prevention, healthy relationships, and skills to build meaningful connections. SHADE empowers individuals to navigate the complexities of relationships by providing a safe space for open discussions. It is a place for them to explore what they want.

Nurturing client relationships involves an approach that recognizes the individuality of each client, respects diverse expressions, prioritizes safety, and empowers each other through education. When we fulfill these needs, we contribute to a more compassionate and understanding society that empowers people with IDD to have meaningful and lasting relationships they desire.

If you have any questions or wish to learn more about the SHADE Program, please contact

Share This