Impact Feature Issue on Sexuality and People with Intellectual, Developmental and Other Disabilities

Some Thoughts From DSPs on Supporting Relationships (sidebar)

The Impact editors recently asked Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) to share the most important lesson they've learned about supporting the sexual choices and privacy of the individuals with disabilities with whom they work. Among the responses were these two insights:

In 1989, professional people filled a conference room where a woman was being coached to, "Tell them what you want." Sheepishly, she said, "I want to have sex with Jim." The meekness of her voice disguised the courage it took to reveal a private wish so publicly. We didn't mean to turn such a personal matter into meeting fodder. We just didn't know that "team processes" do not always require team meetings. Courageous words, meekly voiced, taught us though. - Marianne

The most important lesson I've learned in my experience is the importance of facilitating a relationship with my consumers where dignity, respect, and understanding are held in the highest regard. This fosters growth and understanding so that open lines of communication can be made without fear that our conversations or any information shared will ever leave the confines of the relationship or home. - Kelly

The National Alliance of Direct Support Professionals Code of Ethics includes the following guidance about supporting relationships and sexuality:

As a DSP, I will assist the people I support to develop and maintain relationships. As a DSP, I will -

  • Advocate for the people I support when they do not have access to opportunities and education to facilitate building and maintaining relationships.
  • Recognize the importance of relationships and proactively facilitate relationships between the people I support, their family and friends.
  • Assure that people have the opportunity to make informed choices in safely expressing their sexuality.
  • Separate my own personal beliefs and expectations regarding relationships (including sexual relationships) from those desired by the people I support based on their personal preferences. If I am unable to separate my own beliefs/preferences in a given situation, I will actively remove myself from the situation.