Disability & relationships

People with autism, disability or brain injury face the same issues as other people when it comes to relationships. Friendship is important. And the desire to love and be loved, whether as a friend or an intimate companion, is a drive that defines a person in a way that no disability ever can. People with a disabilty need to gain the skills and rules that help to form relationships as this has such a positive impact on our lives.

"I’ve worked with people with disability for twenty five years including education, employment, residential, legal rights and recreation. I have over ten years’ experience counselling and providing training in relationships and sexuality to people with disability, family members and support staff. It is this experience backed by qualifications in Special Education, and in Relationships Counselling that informs my work. 

"My starting point is to talk with the client, members of their family and/or support staff to understand the client’s personal goals. Sometimes I will use the Assessment of Sexuality Knowledge (ASK) to determine gaps in the client’s knowledge. This helps me to develop counselling and education goals. The ASK assessment usually takes two sessions."

The sessions following assessment involve a combination of therapy and education techniques including structured activities, worksheets and short segments from educational and training DVDs. Follow up actions between sessions are recommended to reinforce a client’s understanding of relevant concepts, skills or information.

Education and case management can be provided for staff and family to help them to support people to achieve their relationship and sexuality goals.

Listen here to Liz talking with Danielle Pham about 'Dating and Disability' on 702 Life Matters (Aug 2012)

Client goals and quotes  (names changed to protect privacy)


“The kids would tease me because they thought I was strange. It was hard to talk to girls. But I’ve been talking to the girl at the Newsagency and she has asked me out.”

Billy 24 (mild intellectual disability and Aspergers).

“I’d like to take my relationship to the next level.” 

Debbie 24 (has Down Syndrome)
has a boyfriend and lives with her carer.

“I’d like to marry my girlfriend but Mum and Dad are getting in the way.” 

Reese 28 (has Down Syndrome)
lives independently.

“We’ve been fighting but we love each other and we want Jessie to see us happy.”

Julie 35 (has a mild intellectual disability) is married with a
two year old and has the support of her sister.

“Now that I’ve had the operation I don’t want to have sex with John anymore, just kisses and hugs.” 

Jane 51 (has a mild intellectual disability)
has been living with John 8 years.

“We don’t want what happened to me (past sexual assault) to get in the way of our relationship. We want to be together.”

Maree 22 and boyfriend 25
(both have a mild intellectual disability).