Learning About Healthy Relationships: The Newest Class by Jay Nolan

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Relationships and dating can be difficult in today’s world, which is why Jay Nolan Community Services is offering a class to help neurodiverse individuals navigate what healthy relationships look like for themselves and others.

Relationships Are For Everyone

Finding love and connection is a desire that most everyone seeks out and cherishes, even among individuals with autism or other intellectual developmental disabilities. Historically and even today, individuals with disabilities have often been denied, not taken seriously, or even controlled in their desire for a real relationship. In being denied the resources available, oftentimes individuals with disabilities are not exposed to what a healthy relationship looks like.

What is the Healthy Relationships Class?

Created by the Human Rights Committee at Jay Nolan, the Healthy Relationships and Sexuality Training Course involves a curriculum which dives into what good communication looks like, meeting people, learning personal boundaries and choices, sexuality, how to prevent against abusive relationships, and so much more. The classes themselves are led by self-advocate Wesley Witherspoon and Lily Handley (Regional Center Funded Employment Services Manager).

Our Mission To Educate And Support

Their goal is educating individuals with disabilities about their bodies and what is possible so they can make informed decisions for themselves. Jay Nolan abides by the philosophy that everyone is entitled to the pursuit of happiness, and finding connection can be a part of that. Dialogues and discussions about sexuality and relationships are a fact of life that everyone should feel comfortable exploring if they choose to. We believe in never shying away from facilitating these conversations. Providing factual information is the only path forward.

“We are going to help people explore this part of their life just like we would help them explore any other part of their life.” – Lily Handley

Who is the Class For?

Currently, the curriculum is directed toward Direct Support Professionals at Jay Nolan Community Services who support individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities. By starting with educating our employees on how to assist the people they support in finding a healthy connection, we are helping facilitate and normalize everyday conversations about intimate topics. The goal is to invite everyone to the table in open communication. Additionally, there is a forum for parents to participate in if they wish. This would be a way for parents to ask questions and learn about how Jay Nolan is supporting their son or daughter in this regard.  However, there are plans to launch another class which will be held for supported individuals specifically.

The classroom at Jay Nolan Community Services filled with participants during a training.

The Healthy Relationships Training is currently available to JNCS staff, with the goal of opening it up to supported individuals and families in the near future.

Supporting a Vulnerable Population

Statistically, individuals with disabilities are at a greater risk of being sexually assaulted and taken advantage of. According to a study published on the National Library of Medicine website, 1 in 3 adults with an intellectual disability are sexually abused in their life. The common response to this is to typically shield them from any information regarding relationships or sexuality. But when not taught about personal boundaries and what healthy relationships look like, people are more vulnerable and it becomes much easier for someone to end up in an abusive relationship. This is true for everyone, however people with disabilities are targeted more because of that assumed vulnerability and perpetrators believing they will stay silent in such a situation. Knowing what resources are available and learning how to detect and what steps to take if in an abusive relationship is vital information Jay Nolan shares in the class.

Two men and a woman sitting cross-legged at a park and discussing something together.

Educating staff on how to assist the people they support in finding a healthy connection, we are helping facilitate and normalize everyday conversations about intimate topics.

The Goal is Self-Knowledge

The class on healthy relationships is not only informational, but also self-reflective. Attendees are invited to think about what they are looking for in a relationship and what they want out of it. Talking about the relationships we want helps us to better ascertain what we are comfortable with and where our boundaries lie. All perspectives are important; even the teachers can still learn more from the conversations that are conducted.

“The trainers are being taught too and are we constantly learning.” – Trainer Wesley Witherspoon

If you or someone you know is interested in taking the class on healthy relationships, please get in touch with us.


References:

Tomsa, Raluca et al. “Prevalence of Sexual Abuse in Adults with Intellectual Disability: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 18,4 1980. 18 Feb. 2021, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7921934/

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