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People with intellectual disabilities may be entirely independent, or may have multiple community supports. Regardless of the level of support a person receives, service providers should respect their choices.  You can support people by helping them stand up for their right to make their own decisions.

  • Some people with developmental disabilities have been taught to be compliant and to say what they think you want to hear. Be careful not to guide their choices.  Give them the information they need, and support them in making their own decisions.
  • In some cases, a parent or guardian may be concerned with something sexual that may have happened, but the person insists that nothing happened, or that what happened was consensual and appropriate. Recognize that some people are uncomfortable with the idea of people with disabilities being sexual, or may assume that a person isn’t capable of giving consent. This is almost never the case. If a person can express an opinion, they are generally capable of giving their consent, even against the wishes of a guardian. In this case, your best practice is to talk to the person with the intellectual disability about consent, and give them some general information. You might also give the guardian information about consent and healthy sexuality. In some ways, an effective approach might look similar to one you might use with a parent or guardian of a minor youth.
  • Some, but not all, people with intellectual disabilities will have a guardian who oversees some aspect of their life, such as medical and legal issues. Despite this, their choices should still be respected. Some guardians may try to force people into doing things they don’t want to do.  If a person is unhappy with their guardian’s behavior, it may be possible for them to change guardians through the court system. If necessary, contact one of the organizations on the Resources page.