By: Laura Chesny, Resident Care Coordinator

In my role at Rainbow Acres, I talk to many of our residents on a daily basis.

My role is that of an advocate for the Ranchers, to see them as individuals with special needs and desires, to help them grow and to support them in their daily lives and with future aspirations, while upholding the mission and values that define Rainbow Acres.

By walking alongside our Ranchers, various opportunities present themselves for additional learning and support. Recently, a need presented itself to have a group meeting regularly to talk about “opposite sex” relationships. As a result, we created a class where a small group could come together to talk about their feelings regarding relationships.

This group met weekly for 16 weeks and, throughout that time, I may have learned just as much or more than they did! What I learned was that many of our Ranchers have dreams and desires just like we all do. There can be a sense of loss (and even grief) about the lack of a future life when it comes to getting married and having children. Some Ranchers don’t understand why relationships are different for them than for neurotypical people. Others understand that it is different for them but feel it is not fair. Some struggle with how they think relationships should go based on societal norms, what they see in their own relationships, what they feel their parents expect, what they feel the staff expect, or what they get from TV and other social influences. The discussion was lively, to say the least!

Life can be messy for any of us, and people with disabilities are not immune to this. When we enter into any kind of relationship there are many obstacles to navigate. Although our Ranchers are protected at Rainbow Acres, they are not living in a bubble.

I discovered that the Ranchers in my group felt relieved to have a place where they could talk about this topic. Participation among the group was fantastic, as was their attendance! Most brought up many great questions and had very insightful comments and feelings to add to our discussions. Among some of the topics discussed were the following:

  • Friendship vs. Dating/Special Friend – Qualities of a friend, how a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship is different, what is important to you in a relationship, what is a date vs. dating, what are the steps of dating
  • Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships – Positive and negative elements of relationships, what does healthy dating look like, what are appropriate things to do together, signs of unhealthy relationships, what does dating look like at Rainbow Acres, and what are the guidelines/rules
  • Boundaries – Appropriate vs. inappropriate touch, setting up boundaries in your relationship, standing up for yourself, pressuring in a relationship, ending relationships)
  • Communication – Unspoken rules, phone use, text messages, letters, internet usage
  • Approach to Relationships – True friendship and how to cultivate that bond, the bridge from friendship to a relationship, and elements of relationships (respect, compatibility, commitment, communication, compromise, transparency, and trust)

I was so blessed that during the time I was teaching this class, Rainbow Acres had hired a new staff member, Al Slusser, who is a chaplain. Al was very interested in helping us start this class and was a great addition as he did a remarkable job of getting the Ranchers involved in understanding the Christian foundation of relationships.

The success of this new class was so great that word has spread on the Ranch. Other Ranchers are asking about when a new session will become available! I am pleased to be able to meet a need for some of our Ranchers and look forward to developing future classes that can help our residents grow and learn in other ways. Future ideas include a mentoring/leadership class, resident council, and art journal therapy.