Article 2- March 2023

Spotlight On: Youth with Disabilities Thriving in a Relationship

Autumn Bertels and Davis Green (Wichita/Lawrence)


What are both of your names and how old are each of you? What town do each of you live in?

DAVIS: 19 and live in Wichita

AUTUMN: 21 and live in Lawrence


How long have you two been a couple?

BOTH: A little over 1 year


What did you like about the other person? What attracted you to them?

DAVIS: She was very pretty and sweet. I also admired her passion for Jesus, Advocacy, and Science.

AUTUMN: I really liked how friendly and caring he was, which is why I originally started talking to him. After we first hung out one on one, I got to know more about his faith and we had some deep religious conversations and that attracted me a lot to him.


What do you like best about having a partner or being in a relationship?

DAVIS: I always have Autumn to talk to and relate to. She’s the pal I can always talk to and be with when the world shuts me out. Even though everything around me changes, she is constant in my life. She’s always here to help me and be my bestest friend even when we have ups and downs. She always can cheer me up.

AUTUMN: I like having someone I can talk to that knows me for who I am in the present. I also like being able to rely on one another to keep each other accountable in our faith, academics, and responsibilities.


What do you like the least about having a partner or being in a relationship?

DAVIS: Having to deal with the nagging and clingyness sometimes, hah! It can also be hard to navigate work- life balance when you add the complications of a relationship. 

AUTUMN: I would say having the responsibility of trying to help another person with their emotions and be their shoulder to cry on. It can be really emotionally taxing, but it’s definitely worth it. 


I know Autumn has a disability, but, Davis, do you have a disability? If so, what is it?

DAVIS: Yes, ADHD and persistent depressive disorder.


How does Autumn’s disability affect your relationship? Or, if both or you have disabilities, how does that affect your relationship? 

DAVIS: It took a lot of getting used to the differences of how everyday tasks are handled. It takes much longer to get up in the mornings when we are together because Autumn takes much longer to get ready. I also had to mentally prepare for the activities I’d potentially have to give up if I wanted a long-term relationship with Autumn. I’ve always enjoyed hiking on rough terrain and doing a lot of things that wheelchair users don’t always have access to. I had to come to terms with things I’d have to give up. I also had to make myself realize that disabilities can affect a person’s health. I had to take into account financial burdens with frequent medical visits, hospital visits every so often, and even realize that Autumn could die at a younger age than most people. I had to mentally prepare. What’s really ironic about that was I prepared myself and still wasn’t prepared enough when 1 month into relationship, Autumn was hospitalized with Sepsis and could have died. I was right by her side during the conundrum, but it really taught me that I have to be prepared for anything. I have to make sacrifices. 

AUTUMN: I would say that Davis’ disability has made me be more aware of what I say and how I act on things and also has helped me become more patient. I can get really frustrated when he forgets to do something I’ve asked him to do several times, or I can get very emotionally exhausted when he has depressive episodes that I’m trying to comfort him with. I’m still trying to learn more about ADHD and how to accommodate for him better.


Davis- Had you ever thought about dating a person with a disability? Did you have any apprehensions about dating a person with a disability?

DAVIS: One of the biggest things I told Autumn from the beginning was nothing ever could have prepared me or predicted that I would be in relationship with a person with a disability. I grew up as a hopeless romantic. I’d daydream about love and romance. I wanted a high school musical romance. Sometimes, I always thought I’d date some beautiful girl with red hair and blue eyes who was a soprano so I could sing duets with her all the time. I had so many misconceptions. Then bam, God brought me this brown haired, green eyed, clarinet playing beauty into my life who is a wheelchair user. Every dream, picture perfect and imaginative girl I ever had before I met Autumn definitely wasn’t a wheelchair user. Now, I couldn’t see it any other way. I love her no matter what because she loves me, her personality is beautiful, her body is beautiful, and we make life work. She’s imperfectly perfect! 

I had some apprehensions. How was I, some immature, super busy, way over my head kid going to manage a relationship this complicated. Long distance relationships fail very often. College relationships fail often as well. We have both of those complications present in our relationship. Then you add the complications of disability, and the odds seemed almost zero to none that I would be able to make that relationship work. I felt like there was no point in asking her because I didn’t have faith in myself. Additionally, my preconceptions and internalized ableism held me back from the truth. I was afraid that I would have to be Autumn’s caretaker. That rather than being her life partner, she’d have to rely on me because she couldn’t take care of herself. I quickly realized how wrong I was and how amazing and independent she is. Any preconceived notions can really apprehend a relationship, so it’s important to analyze yourself and your flaws before you enter any relationship!


What is your favorite thing to do to spend time together?

DAVIS:  Cuddling and playing Mario Kart. 

AUTUMN: I really like going around Wichita and Davis telling me stories about his childhood experiences at different places. I also like cuddling with him while we watch reels on Instagram and Facebook together.


What is one challenge that you have faced in your relationship and how did you work through it?

DAVIS: We lived together in the summer of 2022 temporarily for fun to kind of see how well we could work together. It was really rough at some points. Sometimes I wanted leave, and sometimes Autumn wanted me to leave. There were fights, hurt feelings, and lots of tears. But we kept praying. What really kept us together was our open minds and thorough conversation. We also forgave each other even if it takes a week for the forgiveness to occur. We strive to understand our differences and to make our situation work. We realize how many people can fail at making this type of relationship work. Additionally, we see how many people have doubted our ability to make this relationship work, so we let that drive our love for each other and determination to not let anything destroy our special bond.

AUTUMN: I feel like our biggest challenge is being in a long-distance relationship. It’s an ongoing challenge and will be for awhile, but we have worked through it by communicating our wants and needs and trying to balance our work-life and relationship. This includes visiting each other about once a month when we can and almost daily FaceTime calls, but also making sure we take care of our individual needs.


How do you, as a couple, work through conflicts?

DAVIS: Prayer and conversation. I will be honest, our conflict resolving skills are constantly needing to be revised and worked on. We make it sound easy, but working out the complicated problems we have truly is a hard task and we make mistakes. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes Autumn gets impatient. Sometimes we genuinely hurt the other person without the intent. It gets hard. You have to be patient, and work things out. And the number one thing is NEVER LOSE HOPE!!! Pray. Ask for guidance. Seek Mentorship. Always remind your partner you love them even when it can be hard to do so.

AUTUMN: We communicate our issues with one another, which can definitely be difficult for me sometimes and Davis has to push me a little bit to open up. We also pray a lot when there’s frustration, confusion, and misunderstanding. Once we are able to communicate thoroughly, we are usually able to come to a compromise and, if we don’t, and there is some frustration, we usually take a little while to cool off. We then address the situation with a fresh mind set and are either able to understand and agree with the other person or compromise from there.


What are your future plans as a couple?

DAVIS: For now, my goal is to continue to work out the kinks and sand out the edges of our relationship. I definitely want to ask Autumn to marry sometime within the next 2 years. It’s just a matter of fully securing the trust, stability, and comfort of this relationship and trusting in God’s plan. 

AUTUMN: Right now, both of us are focused on getting our degrees and graduating. We have talked about the possibility of getting married after, moving in together once married, and starting graduate school. 


What advice do you have for youth with disabilities who are out there right now dating and trying to find their partner? 

DAVIS: Don’t settle in life. Don’t settle for the guy who hangs out with you and cares about you, but is a jerk to you otherwise. Don’t settle for the girl who is super beautiful, but doesn’t respect you for who you truly are. Find the perfect balance between what your needs are, and what you want in life. Trust me, you will know when it has come time for the right person in your life. This is coming from someone who has been in two relationships before this one, and swore those people were the one with a blind eye, and thinking about how happy I was to just not be alone instead of valuing the person I was with. When you learn to love the person for who they are instead of loving them because they fulfill your loneliness, you will be ready for the true relationship. Also, don’t seek for validity in a relationship. I struggle with this myself, but you have to love yourself before you love anyone else! As Ru Paul once said, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else.” 

AUTUMN: Don’t let your disability determine your self-worth. I thought, for a long time, that, because of my disability, I was broken and I wouldn’t find anyone who could possibly take up the challenge of dating someone like me. It takes a lot prayer and self-evaluation to understand your worth. I still have issues with understanding my worth and it’s an ongoing struggle, but I know that I am lovable. Make sure the person loves you for who you are, you and your disability. Davis has always told me I love you and your wheelchair, which I didn’t really understand at first, but as our relationship has progressed, I’ve learned that he means he loves me and my disability and how it makes me who I am. You are lovable, you will make a great partner to someone, and you will find someone right for you. Just pray, work on bettering yourself for you, not other people, be patient, and know your worth. 


What advice do you have for a successful relationship?

DAVIS: No matter disability or whatever complications of a relationship, the key factors to a relationship are simple and concise.

1. Communication- no relationship will thrive if you and your partner don’t communicate about your wants, needs, and feelings.

2. Self-Evaluation- you need to constantly evaluate how you feel about the relationship. If you have questions, doubts, or concerns, speak up and apply number 1!

3. Encourage- always encourage your partner no matter the circumstance. If y’all had a huge fight the night before or whatever, you should still support and love them.

4. Lose the Ego- Ego, Narcissism, and Stubbornness will never thrive in a relationship. Avoid them at all costs.

5. God- if you are not religious, you may skip this one. However, as a Christian, I truly believe God has a huge part to do with relationships. You should be asking God daily for guidance, patience, love, and self-control for both you and your partner. Pray for each other, pray together, attend church together. Push each other to dig deeper into their relationship with God.

I wish all of you the best and may God be with you all on your journey of life! 

AUTUMN: Be patient, pray, and listen. Communication is key. I know it’s been said several times by several people, but it’s the truth. You won’t know each other’s problems unless you communicate, and, if you don’t communicate, these problems will lead to bigger problems because of the lack of communication. Also learn to be patient with your emotions and your partners’. We all have highs and lows, but learning how to help encourage your partner and yourself and being patient with your partner and yourself will get you so far. If you’re confused or struggling, praying and self-reflecting can help get a clearer understanding and a new mindset on how to address issues. You can also get guidance from someone you think can give you an unbiased opinion if prayer and self-reflection isn’t helping as much as you need to it to. With all this being said, make sure that your partner is respectful of your boundaries. If they aren’t, then they aren’t the one for you.