Heartstruck: Guiding Your Disabled Loved One Through the Dating Scene

It may be cold outside, but February is the month of love and hearts are warming for lots of people. If your loved one with an intellectual or developmental disability (IDD) is heartstruck over a peer or someone in their community, you may be wondering how to keep them safe and how to best guide them through the dating game.

It’s natural that young adults with an IDD want to move through life at the same pace as their siblings, cousins, friends and peers. They may develop crushes, catch feelings for a friend or be curious what being in a relationship is like. IDDs are likely to make the communication stage of those possible relationships tricky and awkward … as if that wasn’t already the case without the unique challenges of having an IDD.

We hope these 5 tips can help you and your heartstruck loved one communicate openly and positively about the dating scene, love and appropriate relationships.

5 Ways to Help Your Disabled Loved One Navigate the Dating World


Have “the talk”

We make light of having a frank conversation about love, relationships and sexuality as if it’s something that doesn’t need to be planned or uncomfortable. The reality is these topics are difficult to discuss openly without judgement and will, most likely, be a little weird for all involved. However, the best way to ensure your loved one understands boundaries for themselves and their love interest is to teach them what positive boundaries, expectations and relationship roles look like before they step into the dating world.

Take questions seriously

Intellectual and developmental disabilities can make understanding attraction and love difficult. They are abstract ideas and may not make sense to someone with an IDD the same way they would to someone without those challenges.

If your developmentally disabled loved one catches you off guard with a heavy question about sexuality or love, take a breath, be careful to not judge or laugh, and give them an honest, positive and educated answer. 

Make a “first love” plan

There is a first for everything and at some point your child will turn into a young adult and find their “first love”. Most of us have experienced this and found out the hard way that things don’t always go as planned. You can help make your child’s first relationship a little smoother by creating a “first love” plan. Brainstorm ways they can inform you about their first crush, appropriate first date activities where they and their love interest will be comfortable, and boundaries for both during this emotional time.

Be supportive and encouraging

Caring for another person is powerful, and having new feelings for a person can bring up a lot of different emotions and thoughts. Offer praise for putting themselves out there and being brave, and help them through rejection and hurt feelings. Be in their corner when they make good decisions and act as a guide when they are uncertain on next steps.

Have a heart-to-heart

Are things going well for your loved one’s relationship, or is it a bit rocky? The only way you’re going to find out is by being open and asking the question. So, have a heart-to-heart, be genuine, and try to understand if they are feeling okay or if they could use some advice and support. Relationships are scary, happy and sad. If they are struggling to understand their feelings or their partner’s feelings and are not comfortable talking to you about the issue, that’s okay. Offer to find additional support. 

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