Personal Story

Feature Issue on Sexuality and Gender Identity for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities

Learning to Sparkle


Carina Hei works in a café and is completing a post-high school transition program. She lives in northwestern Washington. By Carina Hei, with support from her mom, Kim Hei

A person in a baseball cap and a sparkly green jacket poses in front of an ombré sparkly backdrop. She holds a pink sign that says “Carina Hei (sweetheart).”

Author Carina Hei: “We don’t have to be dull; we can have fun in dating.”

At the Raise Me Up workshop, we focused on how to give consent, who is and is not appropriate to date, and how to have healthy relationships.

I had gone to a workshop last year, too, and some of the same people were there. It was so much fun. I love talking about Down syndrome and consent and everything else in that program. Last year, after taking the workshop, I ended a relationship that wasn’t good for me.

My current boyfriend and I have been together for nine months, and it has been amazing. We went to the same high school, where we first met during my junior year. I know it’s a little sad, but we are probably going to break up before he goes to college next year. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to come back to Raise Me Up this year. I participated in sessions with both teenagers and adults, and we talked not only about ongoing relationships, but about finding new ones.

I learned how to sparkle and show kindness, caring, and love in a relationship. By “sparkle,” I mean that we don’t have to be dull; we can have fun in dating and finding people we might want to date. We talked a lot about intimacy and emotional feelings for other people.

We also talked about who is not appropriate for dating, such as teachers, volunteers, family members, and people you only know from media or the internet. We learned that relationships start with friendship and common interests.

In the workshop, we made lists of things we love about ourselves and things other people love about us, or “areas of personal bravery.” For me, that includes singing in public and being fun, creative, and kind. It includes being a sweetheart, having work skills, and making ASL videos. These lists lift me up, and I bring this awareness with me to all of my relationships.

It is important to get emotional support in the right places. I get emotional support from my parents, my sisters, and my boyfriend. These are my trusted adults. Other ways to feel better are calm breathing, meditation, exercise, music, scents, healthy foods, and hanging out with pets. It was so much fun to practice each of these things during the workshop. My favorite activities were the dance parties and yoga poses.

During the workshop, we practiced power poses to feel our strength and bravery. We are proud of who we are, even though it is not always easy to have Down syndrome or other disabilities.

At the end of the workshop, we got a yearbook that had pictures of the friends we met there.The yearbook also had visual reminders about the things we talked about, like how to become calm in your body, how to express certain feelings, consent, and a lot more. I met many people my age there and I hope to continue friendships with them. Everyone was so nice and it really was a lot of fun.

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