NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Sam Shwartz has an intellectual disability that requires help with life skills, but that didn’t stop him from getting down on one knee with a shiny diamond ring to pop the question to Kara Anglim in front of friends at Chapel Haven Schleifer Center.

“It was good,” Shwartz, 33, said.

“I had no idea” it was going to happen, Anglim said of the proposal on her 40th birthday March 10. “I think Sam is amazing. He really makes me happy.”

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Of course her answer was, “yes.”

The two are community members at Chapel Haven Schleifer Center, a program that teaches adults on the autism spectrum and with other intellectual disabilities to lead their most independent lives. When they tie the knot they will become the fifth married couple at Chapel Haven.

Dr. Fred Volkmar, one of the world’s leading experts on autism, a professor at Yale Child Study Center and board member at Chapel Haven Schleifer Center, said while marriage in such populations is not common, it’s “an increasing phenomenon.”

“Like other people they want to have relationships and marry and, despite the challenges, more and more are doing so,” Volkmar said. “I have been aware of isolated instances for years but it is now happening more.”

Volkmar said there is little research on the subject at this point.

Like many other couples, Shwartz and Anglim, who live together, are waiting to set a date because of the pandemic, but likely will have two celebrations/ceremonies: one at Chapel Haven’s courtyard in front of the community with whom they share their lives, and another in Maine, from where Anglim comes.

“The relationship and love between Kara and Sam is infectious. Their happiness shines through our campus, and it reminds me of how incredible this organization is, for our staff, our families, and the adults we serve,” said Chapel Haven Schleifer Center President Michael Storz.

“Chapel Haven truly is more than just a school that teaches independent living,” he said. “It’s a place where adults with developmental disabilities come and create their best lives, just like any neurotypical individual.”

Shwartz and Anglim were friends for 10 years when the relationship took a romantic twist about five years ago. They moved in together about a year ago when the housing circumstances allowed.

Shwartz’s mother, Pamela Goodman, never thought her son would marry — and she’s excited.

“I really do believe anyone regardless of their ability deserves to have a full life. … Being able to make a commitment to someone like this is wonderful,” Goodman said. “I think it’s fabulous Sam has the ability to love and be loved. They seem to have a nice relationship. They survived COVID together, they survived being in quarantine together.”

Anglim has some physical limitations, but that’s OK because her son absolutely loves helping around the house, Goodman said. Shwartz doesn’t get wrapped up in small stuff, either, Goodman said, noting, “He doesn’t care if she doesn’t put the toothpaste cap on right.”

Goodman said she asked Anglim, “Does Sam ever get on your nerves?” To which Anglim answered, “Yes, I just tell him to go into the other room.”

Goodman chuckled recalling that answer and noted, “Which is what we all do.”

Goodman said she believes her son’s emotional intelligence “far outweighs” his intellect.

Goodman said she never quite knows whether she’s getting the correct information from her son, and, so, when he called months back to tell her he and Anglim were engaged, Goodman asked, “Does Kara know?”

Anglim’s father, Thomas E. Anglim, said he never thought marriage would be possible for his daughter, “mostly because of the odds of Kara finding someone who could complement her.”

But, he said, “luckily” they found each other at Chapel Haven.

“Sam is very good to Kara — being a friend and companion and helping her with her mobility issues and day-to-day living,” Thomas Anglim said.

He said his daughter was a typical child, then at 14 had a cardiac arrest at track practice due to an unusual heart arrhythmia.

“By the time she was resuscitated she had sustained an anoxic brain injury, which left her with thick speech, short-term memory issues, and difficulty with walking and balance,” Thomas Anglim said. “Fortunately her personality remained intact and she is still funny, social, kind and possessing a lot of common sense.”

Like other couples, the pair enjoy going to movies and plays, and each other’s company.

Terri Console, program manager at the Chapel Haven Schleifer Adult Independent Living program, or SAIL, said Shwartz and Anglim complement one another.

“He’s a lively, helpful guy and she keeps him grounded, mellow, calmer. They both like to chill and relax,” Console said. “They’re just well-meshed together.”

On Valentine’s Day, Shwartz surprised Anglim with a stuffed bear, a stuffed tiger and a rose, and arranged with staff for him to cook his specialty pasta and shrimp dish. He also got them matching red shirts.

“She makes me happy, she makes me warm. She makes me feel like I want to hug her,” Shwartz said of his fiancee.

Goodman said highlighting the couple’s relationship is “a way to educate other people that people with disabilities are just like us. It’s hard for people to understand.”

Thomas Anglim said it’s nice that both families embrace the union and everyone is looking forward to the wedding.

“Kara’s sister and Kara’s friends are anxious to plan the wedding. Kara is mostly interested in the party,” Thomas Anglim said.

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