More and more agencies working with disabled people are realising the importance of romantic relationships in the lives of youngsters with impairments and are devising programmes especially for teenagers and young adults aimed at improving their social skills.
As the disabled youngster steps into the teenage age years and later into adulthood, many start experiencing sexual feelings and showing an interest in the opposite sex. And like others of their age, they often do not know how to handle these feelings or express them in an appropriate manner. The dilemma is acute for those living with a disability due to the added dimension given by the impairment itself.
The impairment quite often affects social skills. Thus a person may talk very loudly because he cannot hear very well or another may have a habit of standing very close to the person he is interacting with. These inappropriate social skills usually makes it very difficult for the young person to make friends, let alone date.
The situation is also difficult for the parents of the disabled young person. Many parents tend to be very protective about their children and worried about how they will handle a possible rejection when they approach some one they are interested in. Their anxiety makes them hover around their children who in turn become more dependant than they need to be.
The programs developed by the agencies for challenged people are designed and implemented by trained professionals like social workers, counsellors, educators or psychologists. The content and methodology varies from agency to agency, depending on the group they are working with. Usually youngsters with similar disabilities are brought together. There are separate groups for the visually impaired, the autistic, those with learning disabilities and so forth. In all the groups, disabled youngsters are encouraged to mix freely with their peers without feeling self conscious by participating in a common activity. Techniques used include behaviour modification, instruction and discussion, modelling and role playing.
Most programs are activity-based. There could be cooking or grooming sessions, dance parties, games, discussion groups – the list is endless! Through the activity the young person learns to practice his social skills under the guidance of the facilitator.
Programs may also teach the participants about grooming and body language as well as appropriate social behaviour. Some teach conversation skills and interaction in different situations and some offer sex education. Participants are encouraged to talk about the qualities they look for in a potential partner and explore their feelings and fears about dating. They learn to say no and to get out of difficult situations.
The agency also helps the parents to handle relationship and dating issues of the disabled young people. Parents are helped to overcome their anxiety and encouraged to step back so that their children can form independent relationships.
The popularity of the programs stands testimony to the fact that they are achieving what they set out to do. The agency has eased dating fears and is helping disabled young people to form better relationships with an increased sense of well being and pride.
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