The Power of a Relationship

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care”. Theodore Roosevelt

Why should I watch my 13 year old son play and win his favorite video game? Why should I sit at a tiny table as my 3 year old daughter makes me lunch from her play kitchen? Why should I go on a 22 mile bike ride with my husband? The answer is because relationships are like bank accounts. Positive interactions are like deposits and negative ones are like withdrawals; the goal is to keep the account well above a zero balance with an abundance of wealth.

Working with clients with special needs can be very rewarding, yet challenging and I strongly believe that the majority of our effectiveness and their success is a direct result of what we have invested in our relationships.
In graduate school, one of the best books I read was “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. The principles in this book are timeless and span across many situations we all encounter in life. Some of the main concepts relate to making others feel important, showing interest in what drives the other person, being friendly, encouraging others, and praising every improvement.


What does this look like when we are with clients or family members with disabilities? We need to be present in the moment, smile, encourage them and spend time with them. Spending time with them is different from caring for them. Caring for them is a given but beyond that, we should ask ourselves what they like to do. This not only helps us understand their wants and needs, but it is a quick rapport-builder. In Applied Behavior Analysis, we call this “pairing”; pair yourself with reinforcement (preferred activities or items). I personally call it “speaking their language”. Do they like to read books, spin tops, play video games, swing on a swing set, sing karaoke, run fast, play with an iPad, make their own coffee, put on makeup, look at wedding dresses, talk about 70’s cartoon characters, look at antique cars, have their nails painted, rock in a chair, snap rubber bands, look for school buses, play in water, look up roller coasters on the internet, help with grocery shopping, bang the drum in music therapy, talk about movie trivia, or let sand run through their fingers? Do these things with them!

Pairing is like making a deposit in the bank of your relationship; plus it is a personalized deposit that means something to that person. Having a positive, “wealthy” relationship is one of the best tools we have when helping our clients through challenging times. Speak their language, take the time to spin tops with them, smile, and encourage them so that relationship that you have invested in will have profound returns.

Carnegie, D. (1964). How to win friends and influence people. New York: Simon and Schuster.