Dating is a fraught enough territory for anyone to enter, but for people with disabilities, many of which can inhibit social skills, it can be terrifying, so opportunities to meet people are often limited.
Dore, the only relationship coach of her kind, starts things off gently, with some conversation starters; for some of the group, even the most casual chat can be a wrench. That’s particularly the case for 21-year-old Adelaide, who has Aspergers so severe that she has trouble maintaining eye contact and is easily overwhelmed by too many people or too much noise.
Or as Adelaide puts it herself, “I have the body of a neurotypical, in the mind of someone else. I don’t have an intellectual disability, I have a learning disability.”
She finds human relationships tricky, and her delightful but brutally direct conversational approach, which provides some levity during group discussions, doesn’t always endear her to people.
The group also includes Johnny, who has Down Syndrome. He finds learning difficult and has poor memory, but socially he’s up for a good time. “I like dancing and karaoke and beautiful hot girls. I try to ask them out and they say no thank you.”
Then there’s Brittany, who has Williams Syndrome, a mild disorder that tends to make those living with it very open and trusting; her parents are keen for her to learn about “stranger danger” and appropriate social media behaviour, especially after discovering she’s accepted more than 3500 people as “friends” on her Facebook account. Alex and Ryan, who both have Down Syndrome, are already a couple and have been dating for three years, and 33-year-old Jess, the oldest of the group, has Apsergers. She’s had two previous relationships and is now looking for something long-term.
Dore coaches the group through role-playing exercises, a night out at a local dance and even a confronting session where she shows them how to put a condom on using a sex toy. But the biggest challenge comes at the culmination of the sessions when the group travels to Orange for a regional debutante ball for people of disabilities. Before the big night, there are some challenges, from Johnny and Jess’ disastrous attempt at a date, a surprise announcement from Alex and Ryan and tears, fears and frustration – for everyone. Throughout it all though, Dore holds the group together, and, like the filmmakers, treads lightly and with humour and grace; this isn’t a “worthy” or patronising doco, rather a slice of lives to which we might not otherwise be privy.
Untold Australia is on SBS, Wednesday, 8.30pm