Helpful Tips for Teaching Social Boundaries to Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Social Boundaries

Whether it’s for a job or to simply make friends, it’s critical to teach social boundaries to adults with developmental disabilities. A decreased level of self esteem, social withdrawal, and feelings of alienation can all be the direct result of a lack of social skills.

As a result, we’ve put together a quick tip sheet for teaching social skills and social boundaries to adults with developmental disabilities. While this list may not be exhaustive, it includes a few simple steps and role playing activities you can do reinforce social boundaries and good manners to help your loved one develop a healthy social network, make friends, and live their best life!

Teaching Social Boundaries to Adults with Developmental Disabilities

It’s critical to teach your loved one with IDD social boundaries and personal space. These “rules of the road” center around instilling good people skills while actively using thoughtfulness toward others.

You can role play and illustrate different wrong ways to interact followed by the correct ways to interact with people. This simple but impactful activity can be a basic foundation in social manners that can be reinforced by other activities, games, etc.

Prepare for Everyday Conversations

Everyone is more comfortable and better able to handle various situations when they are prepared. You can help teach your family member with IDD by role playing and acting out common scenarios and conversations. It’s simple and practice makes perfect.

Teach What Makes a Good Friend

Once you develop a solid friendship, you want to keep it, right? It’s helpful to teach adults with developmental disabilities that friendships are relationships you need to continually work on.

A good friend is fun to be around, caring, truthful, and interested in you. With this in mind, you can role play different scenarios that demonstrate ways you can show a friend you care, such as:

  • Bringing a friend flowers on their birthday;

  • Asking them about their day;

  • Offering them soup if they are sick;

  • Opening the door for them; and other friendly duties.

What Happens If You Aren’t Being a Good Friend?

At the same time, you can show them what happens if you’re not nice to your friend and the ways it can negatively affect the relationships. One strategy is to view videos of dishonesty, or other bad friend behavior and the ensuing negative consequences. This way, your loved one with IDD can learn how to be a good friend and what to avoid without having to necessarily go through the painful experience personally.

Teaching Social Boundaries to Adults Regarding Approachability

Do you know someone who walks around with a “Don’t talk or speak to me” aura? What makes this person unapproachable? Now, think of someone who is very approachable and what makes them welcoming. A smile, well-kept clothes, nice posture, a good attitude, and other attributes are all things that make someone approachable.

Those who are approachable are more likely to appear friendly in a job interview, make more friends, and experience positive feelings. You can take turns practicing the subtle social nuances to teach your loved one about social graces concerning being “unapproachable” vs “approachable.”

Social Boundaries to Adults with IDD Regarding Touching

When it comes to teaching social boundaries, it’s imperative to discuss the different types of touching: inappropriate touching vs appropriate touching. For example, the way you would touch your best friend may be different than the way you would physically engage with a stranger.

In any case, touching others and physical contact is only appropriate when both people choose to be touched. Make sure to explain if they feel a touch isn’t appropriate at any point in time, they should always talk to a trusted adult.

Teaching Healthy Relationships and Sexual Behavior

Just like everyone else, people with IDD have emotional needs and sexual feelings. While this conversation can be embarrassing or awkward, it’s critical to acknowledge these natural feelings and thoughts. By teaching social and sexual boundaries to your loved one with IDD, you can help them be safe, healthy and respectful to others.

Most importantly, it’s vital to educate them on which behaviors are appropriate. To help prevent sexual abuse:

  • Begin the discussion around dating and talk about basic rules for relationships, such as being honest, caring, loving, and kind.

  • Set up a date night based on their individual situation. It’s important to remember and emphasize that dating doesn’t have a singular definition and can include a range of meaningful activities.

  • Make sure to give a clear explanation of consensual relationships. Plain and simple, romantic relationships are only acceptable when both people want to be involved.

At Community Mainstreaming, we are committed to helping extraordinary people live ordinary lives. We work to achieve this goal through a range of different programs and initiatives based on community integration, including:


Contact Community Mainstreaming today to learn more about the services we offer.