Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Monday, April 24, 2006

Physical Intimacy Coaching for Those With Mental Retardation and Related Disabilities

"Ms. Graham and Mr. Ruvolo, both 32, accept each other's foibles with tenderness. The one time their romance was in trouble — a girl "was spending too much time at Gary's house, and I didn't like it," Ms. Graham said — they went to couples' counseling and worked it out. Their next hurdle will be moving from their family homes, both in Brooklyn, to a group residence. There, for the first time, Ms. Graham, who is mentally retarded, and Mr. Ruvolo, who has Down syndrome, will be permitted to spend time together in private. The pair were coached in dating, romance and physical intimacy by a social service agency at the cutting edge of a new movement to promote healthy sexuality for the seven million Americans with mental retardation and related disabilities. In what experts say is the latest frontier in disability rights, a small but growing number of psychologists, educators and researchers are promoting social opportunities and teaching the skills to enjoy them.

A generation ago, young adults like Ms. Graham and Mr. Ruvolo were generally confined to institutions, with no expectation of a normal life. All that changed in 1975, when a court order closed the notorious Willowbrook State School on Staten Island and moved its residents, and others like them across the country, into community settings to live as fully as their limitations allowed. That could include attending neighborhood schools and holding salaried jobs. Now many men and women in their 20's and 30's, encouraged from childhood to be independent, expect the same when it comes to expressing their romantic and sexual needs." By Jane Gross, New York Times Link to Article (last visited 4-23-06 NVS)

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