Making friends, staying professional in a work relationship, talking about sexuality—it’s all in a day’s work for direct support professionals, who assist people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in living the lives they choose.

The latest issue of Frontline Initiative,  the newsletter for DSPs produced by the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals and ICI’s Research and Training Center on Community Living,  focuses on developing awareness, knowledge, and skills for supporting healthy relationships. It’s just one component of DSPs’ work—they assist with many other essential tasks of daily living—but it’s a critical one.

“Healthy relationships of all kinds are important to people with IDD,” said Julie Kramme,  FI’s co-editor, along with Chet Tschetter.  Kramme and Tschetter, both of the Institute on Community Integration, said the issue marks an important step forward in acknowledging the level of professionalism required of DSPs.

“We’re excited about this issue because it speaks to some of the important tools DSPs need to do their jobs at a high level,” Tschetter said.

Articles cover a broad range of professional and personal relationships. Balancing differing priorities from people with IDD and their families, creating and supporting opportunities for friendships to develop, building self-awareness skills that can lead to healthier connections, and more are included in the issue.

“Feelings of isolation are quite common among people with intellectual disabilities,” said Kramme. “This issue assembles a number of experienced professionals who talk about the ramifications of that. It also offers very specific tools and strategies for professionals to use, and there’s some great storytelling about what’s possible for people when they stick to their guns and say they want real relationships in their lives.”

With the issue release happening amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it also delivers an “a-ha” moment for everyone, Tschetter said.

“We’re now feeling the isolation that people with disabilities feel on a regular basis, as well as the feeling of not being able to do the things we want to do and to see people whenever we want,” Tschetter said. “These are lessons in empathy that are important for DSPs and today’s environment provides important context around these issues.”