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Learning Activities

All Learning Activities

Looking for Love? Not Always!
Exploring the Variety of Human Relationships — an activity for developmentally disabled youth

by Luca Maurer

This activity is divided into three sessions and is designed for youth ages 13-18 who have developmental disabilities. Because youth who have developmental disabilities may have a wide range of abilities, read through the activities beforehand to determine if they are suitable for the functioning level of the group. The activities are intended for youth with moderate to high functioning levels. The activity format lends itself to groups who can communicate verbally and/or use sign or signals.

Please see the endnote for further suggestions in modifying the activity for youth who do not have mastery of basic concepts such as "public/private."

This month's learning activity includes the following sections:


At the end of this activity, youth will be able to:

  1. Identify various types of relationships,

  2. Describe appropriate ways people in different kinds of relationships relate to each other,

  3. Describe similarities and differences between romantic love relationships and other relationships, and

  4. Identify strategies for dealing with challenging relationships.


This lesson is designed to be presented in three separate sessions. Sessions of 30 - 45 minutes are optimal, but the time may be modified depending on the needs of the group. Some groups may benefit from repetition of the materials in the lesson. Shorter sessions, repeated frequently, may also be a beneficial strategy.


  • Magazines
  • Glue stick
  • Large-size construction paper or cardstock
  • Scissors
  • Clear contact paper or access to a laminating machine



  1. Gather a collection of diverse magazines. Cut out pictures of relationships from these magazines — friends, family relationships, teacher/student, strangers, acquaintances, employer/employee, coworkers, romantic/sexual partners, health care provider/patient, rivals, community helpers (police officers, fire fighters, crossing guards, etc.), the public, etc.

    Be mindful of collecting images that depict human diversity in its many forms. Include pictures that show people of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, social classes, body sizes, abilities, etc.

  2. Prepare the pictures for mounting on cardstock or construction paper by:
    • trimming and cutting the images to minimize clutter in the overall picture,

    • removing confusing or irrelevant background images,

    • removing product promotions (if from advertisement), and

    • leaving in details that concretely illustrate the relationship portrayed.

  3. Use glue to mount each image on a piece of cardstock or construction paper. Laminate each piece (if possible) or use clear contact paper to make the pictures more durable.


Session 1

  1. Introduce the Activity and Define Terms

    1. Explain to the group that they will be talking together about relationships. Ask for definitions of a relationship.
      Note: There may be a variety of answers. Thinking of a relationship exclusively as a synonym for a boy/girlfriend is a common response.

      Suggest that the term "relationship" is really a word that describes a large variety of different ways people interact with each other. Since almost everyone interacts with many people in his/her life (each day!), it's important to learn about how people act in different kinds of relationships.

    2. Ask youth to name all the different types of relationships they can think of. If the group is unsure, give an example such as "parent/child."

    3. Offer affirmation and praise for all responses.

  2. Conduct Large Group Discussion

    1. Ask the youth to tell you why it is important to learn about relationships. Acknowledge that everyone has different kinds of relationships.

    2. Tell the group that you will show them several pictures, one at a time. When you show them a picture, they should name the relationship they see in the picture. Show the group the stack of mounted pictures that you prepared earlier.

    3. After the youth name the relationship in each picture, ask them to talk about what they see. Use the following questions as a guide:

      • What relationship do you see in the picture?

      • How can you tell?

      • What kinds of feelings do you think the people in the picture might be having?

      • What do you think they are talking about?

      • What are some other things they might do together?

      • What might be the next thing that would happen if these people were in real life?

      • How are romantic/sexual relationships different from other kinds of relationships? (for pictures showing romantic love)

      • Do people who are sexual partners have responsibilities (duties) to each other that are the same as other kinds of relationships?

      • Do they have any responsibilities to each other that are different than other kinds of relationships?

    4. Use responses that are inappropriate or incorrect as opportunities to correct the information. The following is an example of an interaction in which this is done:

      • Discussion Leader: "Would a doctor and a patient go the movies together?"
        Response from Group: "Yes."

      • Discussion Leader: "Are you sure a doctor and a patient would go out to a movie together? What do doctors and patients do? When do you go to the doctor?"
        Response from Group: "When you need a checkup, or if you are sick or hurt."

      • Discussion Leader: "Right. Do doctors call their patients when they feel like seeing a movie?"
        Response from Group: "No!"

      • Discussion Leader: "Are you sure? What if the doctor really wants to see the movie? Would it be appropriate for him or her to call you and ask you to go?"
        Response from Group: "No!"

      • Discussion Leader: "Give me an example of a relationship where it would be okay to go to the movies with someone."
        Response from Group: "Friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, family, class field trip or group home outing …"

  1. Summarize the Activity

    1. Review the definition of a relationship and the examples of different types of relationships with the group. Remember: repetition is key! The relationship images created for this lesson may also be used as flashcards for quick reviews at any point.

    2. Continue to review the points in this lesson until mastery is achieved.


Session 2

  1. Refocus the Activity

    1. Review the last session with the group.

    2. Ask for volunteers to describe some of the different kinds of relationships they learned about last time.

  2. Conduct Small Group Activity and Discussion

    1. Show the relationship pictures again and tell the group that the cards will be used to talk about relationships again. This time, the cards will be used to play a game.

    2. Divide the group into smaller groups. Give each small group an assortment of pictures. Tell the groups that you are going to ask a question. Once they hear the question, they should sort through the pictures to find the one that answers the question. The group members are to work together on this task and can talk amongst themselves as they decide. For some questions, there may be several different answers.

      • Which one shows people who would tell a secret to each other?

      • Which one shows a person you could talk to if you were lost?

      • Which one shows people who might kiss?

      • Which one shows people who might hug?

      • Which one shows people who should NOT hug or kiss?

      • Which one shows a person you could ask for help?

      • Which one shows people who might talk about their worries together?

      • Which one shows people who do not know each other?

      • When is it okay to talk to these people?

        Note: There are a few times when a person might have to talk to a stranger. One might need to talk to a community helper if they need help — talking to a person in the grocery store who is wearing a grocery store uniform if one is lost; asking directions from a police officer, etc. Most Community helpers wear uniforms.

        Otherwise, one usually does not talk to strangers except under very special (and very rare) circumstances. One group once suggested in a session that if a very huge rock were falling from the sky, a person might quite appropriately exclaim to a stranger nearby, "Watch out!"
        Each question can also be phrased as an "appropriate/inappropriate" or "okay/not okay" question depending on the terminology with which the group is familiar. For example, "Which shows people for whom it would be appropriate/okay for them to kiss if they wanted to?" or "Which shows a person it's appropriate/okay to talk to if you are lost?"

    3. Tell the group that we have a choice about being in some relationships; for some other relationships, we do not have a choice. We can choose our friends, our boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. We don't get to choose our families. We don't get to choose our teachers, our bosses, or our classmates. Ask the group to show you a picture of people who they think chose to be in a relationship. Ask the group to show you a picture of people who did not choose to be in a relationship.

    4. Tell the group that we often have choices in relationships that are not working too well. Ask the group how people can work things out in a relationship. Possible responses might be: talking, cooperating, taking turns, trying to see things from the other person's point of view. Ask the youth to give you examples of these strategies.

    5. Tell the group that if a person we have a relationship with won't help, then it can be hard to solve problems. If we have a choice to be in a relationship with the person and we can't fix things, we may decide not to be around that person anymore. What can we do if we do not have a choice about being in the relationship? We might try extra hard to work things out. We may try to spend some time apart if we can. We may ask for help in working out the relationship (from another family member, a counselor, a teacher, etc.)

  3. Summarize the Activity

    1. People have many different types of relationships in their lives. It's important to know the different types of relationships so that we can know how to act when we are in those relationships. In some relationships, we share our thoughts and feelings. We get to decide whether or not to be in some relationships like with a friend, a girlfriend, or boyfriend. With other relationships — like with family members or teammates — we do not have a choice. It is important to know about different ways to work things out if a relationship is not going too well.


Session 3

  1. Refocus the Activity

    1. Review the previous two sessions on relationships. Ask the youth to describe what they have learned about relationships.

  2. Conduct Small Group Activity

    1. Show the relationship pictures again. Tell the group that this time they will find and make their own relationship pictures.

    2. Divide the group into small groups. Assign a type of relationship to each group (friends, family, romantic partner, work relationships, etc.) If the group has a very high functioning level, ask them to choose their own type of relationship to look for before they begin.

    3. Distribute magazines, glue sticks, large-size construction paper or cardstock, and scissors to each small group. Ask them to look through the magazines to find some pictures of people in the relationship assigned to their group. They should then use the supplies to make a collage of the pictures they find. Offer assistance if necessary.

  3. Small Groups Share Their Work

    1. Invite each group to show their work. Ask the groups to talk about some of the pictures in their collages and tell why they chose those pictures.

  4. Summarize the Activity Series

    1. There are a lot of different relationships. It's important to know the different types of relationships so that we will know how to act when we are in them. In some relationships, we share our thoughts and feelings. In some relationships, we only talk about certain things. For example, in our relationship with a doctor, we mostly talk about our health. In other relationships, we may talk about almost anything — for instance with a trusted family member or a best friend.

    2. Some relationships don't always work out or feel good. For those that we want to keep (or those that we have no choice about being in) there are ways we can try to work on them or ask for help in making them better.

Endnote: Modifying the Activity

This overall activity format can also be used with a group who has less familiarity with the concept of relationships and needs to gain competency in appropriate/inappropriate or public/private behaviors.

  1. Follow the same format, substituting magazine pictures depicting a variety of settings — bathroom, swimming pool, classroom, living room, workplace, bedroom, restaurant, doctor's office, store, etc.

  2. Ask the group what each picture depicts. Then ask the group to identify whether the place is a public or a private place.

  3. Lead a discussion similar to the type described in the relationship activities using the following questions:

    • What kinds of things do we do only in private?

    • What things do we do in public?

    • How do we know if a place is public or private?

    • Are there some places that are not public, but not all the way private?

    • Where would it be okay to adjust your underwear?

    • Where would it be okay to not have any clothing on?

    • Where would you always be fully dressed?

    • Where would be an okay place to masturbate?

    • Where would be an okay place to socialize with friends?

    • Where would it be appropriate for someone else to ask you to take off your clothes? (for instance, sometimes in a health care provider's office, if it is a part of your exam)

About the Author

Luca Maurer, M.S. CFLE, has nearly 20 years of experience that combines work with people who have developmental disabilities as well as professional sexuality education and training. Maurer provides consultation and training on a variety of issues, including: sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity, developmental disabilities, diversity and multi-culturalism, curriculum design, program evaluation, and grant seeking for local, national and international audiences.

Maurer authored "Positive Approaches: A Sexuality Guide for Teaching Developmentally Disabled Persons" in 1991, which received the StarLink Award from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and "Talking Sex! Practical Approaches and Strategies for Working with People Who Have Developmental Disabilities When The Topic is Sex" in 1999. Maurer may be reached via e-mail at