Social tips on being with adults with developmental disabilities

In working with or being with adults that have a developmental disability, you may come upon situations that are uncomfortable or awkward. This list of tips is provided to help you in knowing how to handle some of these situations. Of course, not every situation will be addressed and as we know, there will always be a new situation that we are faced with where we ask ourselves “now what do I do?”

Keep in mind that our goal is not to change people, but rather to help them understand ways that they can better deal with the general mores of society. We are to provide skills that help people feel a “part” of things instead of “apart” from things.

We often do a disservice by treating people who have a disability differently than we would our friends or others we come in contact with. It is a disservice because it provides no example of what would be correct, but rather perpetuates the undesirable behavior. What we need to do is point out the behavior in a caring way and provide an example of what would be a better way to handle the situation.

  • A male adult is leering at you while you’re on an outing or an activity together. Respond by approaching the person and say in a firm voice “It makes me uncomfortable when you stare at me, please stop”. Or, “I don’t like it when you look at me that way.”
  • A person approaches you for a hug and this doesn’t feel right. Stop the person by extending your arms to their shoulders and take their hand for a handshake. Say, “Let’s shake hands instead of hug, because I don’t know you very well”.
  • You are at an activity and a person keeps poking you or tapping your arm for attention. Or the person may lean on you uncomfortably. Say to the person “Please stop touching me, if you want my attention you can just say my name”.
  • A person whom you’ve just met says, “I like you, you can be my girlfriend/boyfriend”. Respond with, “I would like to be friends, but I don’t feel that way about our friendship”. If you already have a girlfriend/boyfriend, say so. This response may produce some pouting; perhaps the person can be approached later. Don’t give attention to the pouting your response is a reasonable one.
  • A person at an activity is standing very close to you or following you around. Respond with “Please don’t stand so close to me, please don’t follow me, I don’t like it”. Physically show the person how close to stand (usually arms length is a good guide).
  • You are out to eat with someone and their table manners are very poor. They may need to be reminded to get a napkin and to use it frequently while they are eating. Remind people to belch with their moth closed, into a napkin.
  • Help people become aware when their voices are too loud. Model appropriate voice levels.
  • A person may ask you something personal that you don’t feel comfortable talking about. Let the person know that this is too personal to talk about, that you usually talk about personal things with people you know well. “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that with you right now, maybe when we get to know each other better, we can talk about things that are personal”