Mentally disabled adults and physical boundaries


#1

Looking for a charitable perspective on a situation my family is facing. We have a lovely parish community that is home to a rather high percentage of somewhat independent mentally disabled adults.
One in particular, a man, has become friends with my husband. DH has a way with people, an ability to talk to them on their level yet respect them as adults- that’s why he’s so great with youth, too. This fellow has really latched onto him, calling him several times a week, wanting to be friendly at Mass.
We learned from another parishioner that this man has faced sexual harassment charges for allegedly following a teen girl at the mall; this parishioner’s husband worked mall security at the time and was involved, so it isn’t just a rumor.
On another occasion, he tried to kiss my husband on the lips, but “not in a gay way,” according to DH. Like many mentally disabled individuals, he is very touch-feely and affectionate.

Obviously on a moral level, he likely bears no moral culpability in the mall situation. My poor husband is rather uncomfortable with all this, and I was the one who encouraged him to return the phone calls. The poor guy just left the saddest, loneliest messages on our phones (got them out of the parish directory). “Retarded people need friends, too,” I told him. It has taken him 3 years to even kiss me in public as husband and wife, and I just don’t have any good advice for him. We also need to take precautions since we now have a baby daughter to look out for.

Any advice on how to respect this man’s dignity with a charitable response to his physical affection?


#2

I’d speak to Fr. D about it and see what advice he might give.


#3

He sounds clingy and if that is the case he may have just been reacting to the girl being nice to him. If most of the people around you treated you poorly, you might be clingy to the nice people also.

If he is slow, maybe someone at the Association for Retarded Citizens (thearc.org) could give you some advice. Even if this person is not officially diagnosed as such, they may be able to give you pointers that would still be applicable.

If there is another disability, then I am sure there is an organization for that disability that could help you out.


#4

You can be friendly with him on your own set schedule. In a similar situation, I determined how much time I could devote to the relationship and started being proactive about it. That helped cut down on all the phone calls, because she knew that I would call her and would return phone calls. I also made sure to always be in public places with her–events after Mass, planned community events, and the like. That helped her stay focused on things around us and not so much on drilling me with endless questions (she wasn’t very good at holding a proper conversation) and allowed me to involve other people in our ‘discussion’. She also didn’t have very good physical boundries and would pull up her shirt so that you could rub her back better, etc. I just constantly reminded her that it wasn’t appropriate for her to do that.

Retarded people do need friends, but they can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, as Royal Archer says, you can get caught up in their clinginess. Absolutely the best slution for me in the relationship above (she has since died of complications from diabetes–please pray for her!) and other similar is to set a mental ‘schedule’ for myself that I never explictly shared, but which made my presence and absence more routine for them and so helped them feel safe in the relationship. That meant I didn’t feel as “chased after” and so I was more willing to be friendly. Pluses all around!


#5

In my opinion the best thing you can do is to be honest with this man.

Tell him, very simply that you do not care to hug in public. Plain and simple and with charity.

Also, tell him you are busy and can only return one phone call per week (or whatever your schedule permits.)

You will be doing him a wonderful favor. If you simply turn away and avoid him he will never have the opportunity to learn. He will feel rejected and sad and won’t know why. Set the boundaries clear and repeat them if necessary.

I have a daughter with Down syndrome, I hope and pray that if she behaves inappropriately as an adult that some kind soul will set her straight.

We need to obviously be kind to people with disAbilities, however letting them behave inappropriately is not doing them any favors. Take this chance to help him if you can, that way you can actually enjoy his friendship rather then dread it.

Hope this helps a little, praying for you.


#6

I agree with Monicad. You just have to tell him, firmly but charitably, that you do not like “that” (whatever it is at the time). Just repeat as needed.


#7

Does he have a caretaker or parent who could talk to him? Sometimes being told, in the right way from a familiar trusted person is really key. It sounds like he’s fairly independent but probably has some other adult at least looking in on him, perhaps you could discuss it with them?

I have a MR and autistic son who’s only 10, but I’m sure all of this will come up later in life and I sure would want people to be honest with him and me about things like this. The thing to remember with mentally challenged people is they often do not get the subtle social hints that we all do and social graces are a hard concept to grasp. Being gently honest and clear with him is probably the nicest thing you can do, so he’s not confused or mislead.


#8

I’d set a firm day/afternoon when you could get together, or hubby was available…even if it was once a month or once every other month. Patterns, routines and boundaries will help significantly.

Set very clear boundaries for yourself, husband and child. EG. only you are allowed to pick up your child, and in front of this man don’t let others, as this would confuse and hurt him. Also, your husband should state that kisses and hugs are for you or for children only, and that he gives handshakes to other men.

As far as sitting with at Mass, also put the boundary that Mass is part of family time and that you don’t allow non-family to sit with you during mass.

Keep rules simple and don’t make exceptions. I agree with an above poster who said to seek out the person in charge of his welfare. The more you know about what is expected of him, the better off you will be.

I hate to think that this poor man was labeled becuase of an innocent incident at the mall when the girl probably dropped a quarter or had pretty hair or something.

Perhaps you could do Denny’s every other month.


#9

Thanks for all the great advice. DH isn’t so worried about the hugs, but his friend tries to stroke his cheek or massage his shoulder.

We have never seen his caretaker; someone drops him off for Mass. He says he lives with his dad, which I think is probably true, but he does have stories about his past that are consistent yet untrue (he believes he used to be a police officer). Initially we assumed he had experienced a brain injury or something, given his stories, but it seems like he may have adopted a past for himself. I’m not really sure of his level of comprehension.

He never really tries to interact with me or the baby except to say hello; it really seems like he wants to have “manly” conversations with DH. Like I said, hubby has a real gift for carrying on that type of conversation.

Good idea to talk to Fr. D-duh, why didn’t I think of the obvious:o.


#10

It’s so good of your hubby to be kind to the man. :thumbsup: Many people are uncomfortable around those who are mentally challenged.


#11

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.