August 20, 2019

Romance and Disabilities

With chocolate hearts and annoying radio ads for pajama-grams (can’t think of a worse present) vying for our attention this week, it’s easy to forget about what love is really all about, and that all of us humans have a strong drive to find love, even when we might least expect it.

When I worked at the Alzheimer’s Association there often stories of people finding new loves while living in assisted living or nursing homes, even if their memories flickered off and on. Most of the time, they were like elementary school crushes, with some hand holding and whispering in corners, but other relationships involved more intimacy if they could find enough privacy.

In Israel, there’s a non-governmental organization called Shalheveth, which provides services for adults with severe physical disabilities, including a program called “Significant Other,” in which adults with severe physical disabilities are given the support and tools they need to have healthy relationships.

As quoted in a recent Jerusalem Post article the Chair of this organization, Miriam Freier, recognizes the need for this population to have all the life choices of any adult, including a romantic relationship.

“Often, severely physically disabled adults are not presented with many opportunities to meet friends, make new acquaintances or find life partners,” says Freier, adding that their physical limitations coupled with social marginalization can often create “a life of severe emotional deprivation and isolation.”

I found out about this unusual program from the Zeh LeZeh blog of the Israel-based Ruderman Family Foundation, which has donated $15,000 to Shaleveth for their “Significant Other” workshop series and couples counseling, in addition to actively promoting inclusion of people with disabilities in all facets of Israeli and Jewish life.

Back in Los Angeles, our 17-year-old son with developmental disabilities told me that he wanted to give a “DVD-Spongebob” to a cute gal in his special education class for Valentine’s Day. This young lady is very kind and is on the autistic spectrum. Most of her verbal communication is considered to be “echolalia” in which people reflexively repeat overhead words. In Danny’s case, this means a lot of “Oh My God” and “Sheesh”, not to mention “Macarena”.

I also learned from Danny’s aide that there’s another teenage girl in his special education class with Down syndrome who keeps hugging Danny whenever she gets the chance, but Danny doesn’t seem to reciprocate those feeling at the same level. The take away here is that even when you least expect it, the desire and quest for love is deep and abiding.

PS Spread a little love yourself by signing the Inclusion Pledge at the Los Angeles Federation website. For each signature, one dollar (up to $5,000) will be donated to Jewish special needs inclusion programs.