by Angela West

This Valentine’s Day I want to share my experiences talking with parents about relationships and love. So often, parents tell me that they are scared that their child with disabilities will not understand the complications of having a relationship. They worry about the potential risks that come along with dating and opening up your heart.

Their fear catches me off guard. Relationships are the same for all of us, disability or not. Sometimes they can be wonderful, sometimes they can be terrible. Sometimes they can be both. Can having a disability complicate things? Absolutely! But so can so many other factors – family, friends, finances, pets, work, the list goes on and on.

I have a good friend who has Down Syndrome.  We have talked about her finding the right man to marry for many, many years. I love having those conversations with her because we are honest about what we are both afraid of. Our questions are not that different than any other young adults. “Will we ever find someone who understands who we really are?”

At the same time we think, “will they accept all the things that come along with being with someone with a disability?” To be honest, some people may not want to be in a relationship with a person with a disability. But how is that different than someone not wanting to date someone who is from a certain cultural or religious background? It’s not.

I always encourage young adults with disabilities to be who they really are and not get caught up in finding the “right person.” I’ve learned that when you are just living your life, you are content with yourself, and sharing your true self with those around you; the right person will come around. Yes, parents will have to watch their child overcome obstacles when they navigate the dating world, but those are the moments where we become strong and independent.

Taking risks is a part of life that you may want to shield your child from. But we grow from failing. We grow from experiencing pain and heartache. We learn about ourselves. Just like you did when you were younger. Setting the right amount of boundaries will teach your children how to protect themselves without holding them back from experiencing the joys of life.

Sometimes it takes a broken heart to understand what true love is. Boundaries are not just to keep the “wrong people” out; they enable people to run freely in a protected area. It is important to have people that love your child around them to show them how to experience all aspects of life.

Live! Laugh! Love!

***ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Angela West earned a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her passion for disability advocacy stems from advocating for her own rights as a young woman with cerebral palsy.***

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