We came across a great resource from Safe Place concerning abuse, including sexual abuse, and children with a myriad of disabilities, including neurodevelopmental (ASD,ADHD, intellectual disability), physical and sensory (blindness, deafness), brain injury, and mental health disabilities. This guide poses many questions about communicating and interacting with children with disabilities who may suffer from abuse or neglect. It also offers many suggestions to caregivers, family members, and educators about how to understand specific disabilities in the context of abuse.
In the first week of the adult human sexuality class, we focus on meeting the others in the class and establishing a level of respect and expectations for the class.
First, the group will create a list of rights and responsibilities. We’ll start with a writing reflection of what participants think the rights and responsibilities should be. As needed the facilitators will prompt important rights/responsibilities that should be included on the list including: to be heard, to ask any questions, to not be put down, to pass, to not have assumptions made about you, to have your own feelings, to say hello and good-bye to group members, to be present and confidentiality. We will briefly discuss each right/responsibility. These rights/responsibilities will be posted in each session. The rights and responsibilities help establish safety and the tone of the sessions. They serve as a guideline so participants know what is expected.
We will also create a question box and name cards and then there will be an ice breaker activity so the group gets the chance to learn about each other. Then, there will be a discussion about what human sexuality is and discuss the group’s thoughts of human sexuality.
This is the session of Human Sexuality 101 was offered by The Autism Program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. This group was designed for three high school/young adult girls and boys with ASD. The teens in this group were bright and engaging and have had a little formal exposure to sexuality concepts, but still struggle with the more nuanced facets. Many of these activities could be adapted for groups of various sizes and ability levels.
You can find all of our lesson plans for the high school human sexuality classes here.
Sometimes when we teach human sexuality we don’t get into issues of gender identity. Even though this can be a complicated topic it is important for individuals with autism as they are able. Sometimes individuals with autism get hung up on rules and categories. A simplistic set of rules is a disservice as it doesn’t reflect the reality of individual experience. Here we can use gender to assist with introducing more fluid thinking more generally. When we teach this, we still use the idea of “rules” or “guidelines” we just provide a set of explanations that are more complex.
Teaching with gender identity is also important because you shouldn’t assume that you understand the gender identity of your students. It opens the door for students to understand their own gender identity and gives them tools for discussing it.
Most educators discussion gender identity with sexuality, and physical sex. Here’s a quick and simple video about the differences between gender identity, sexuality, and sex. There’s also a good intro to sexual orientation and romantic orientation. Like many videos for general guidance, it goes a little fast for novices so you may want to have them watch it once and then watch it again with starting and stopping. You can watch it here.
*In the video, Hank refers to a person named “John.” John Green (author) is Hank’s brother and this is part of a video series they have together where they refer to each other as their audiences.*
This can be used to explain the differences between identity, orientation, expression, and sex.
Here are some terms from the video that students may need defined and some suggestions for how to explain them.
Sex: In this video, sex is defined as the physical sex organs (genitalia). A lot of time we think that everyone who has a penis is a man and everyone who has a vulva (or vagina) is a woman. But man/boy woman/girl is bigger than that. Would you consider yourself to be a boy or a girl? What does that mean to you? This is your gender. We usually use the words male/female to refer to physical sex organs.
Intersex: Every once an a while, the body grows male AND female sex organs. If students want more depth, you could explain that this could mean having a penis and a vagina, or just an elongated clitoris and a vagina, or even having a penis and uterus, or a vulva and testicle. To explain these two points together you could have two drawing of people and ask students to group the genitalia how people often expect it to be and then have them move things around to show how they can be different. In discussing intersex, I like to reinforce that there is nothing wrong with being intersex but sometimes people may feel uncomfortable because it’s unexpected for many people. You may want to mention that people use to use the word hermaphrodite, but now that word is considered offensive.
Gender Identity: What gender you feel you are. Gender is a wide spectrum and includes more than just girls and boys. There are people who identify as man/woman, neither, and in between. Learn more here using the Genderbread Person graphic. To reinforce this concept, use their list from above. Look for items on the list that could be true for either a boy or a girl. Explain that for some people their gender identity matches their sex but for other people it doesn’t match.
Cisgender: When a person’s biological sex matches their gender identity. If a person with a penis identifies as a man, then they are a cisgender person.
Transgender: When a person’s biological sex does not match their gender identity. If a person with a penis identifies as a woman, then that person may identify as a transgender person.
It is important to note that this can be a sensitive topic for many people who do not identify as cisgender, and it is best to allow people to share their gender identity when they are comfortable.
Asexual: A person who does not experience sexual attraction. You can learn more at:
Sexual Orientation: Sexual attraction. This can include heterosexuality, gay/lesbian, bisexuality, pansexuality, asexuality, demisexuality, and many more.
Romantic Orientation: Romantic attraction. This does not have to be the same as sexual orientation. A person might be sexually attracted to men but mentally and romanticallyy attracted to women.
Sexual Behavior: Sexual behavior is the physical actions that a person does to express their sexuality.
Gender Roles: Roles that people of a certain gender are expected to act. This can mean that boys are “supposed” to play with trucks while girls are “supposed” to play dress-up.
It is important to note that gender roles are not set in stone and it is okay to not follow gender roles.
Here you can download our Genderbread Person activity, which is a worksheet that can be used to help students in their process of understanding their own identities and the meanings of these terms. There is a copy of the Genderbread Person graphic attached so it could be used to visually help students understand these concepts.
Here at The Birds and The Bees, we love getting to work with other Champaign-Urbana community members. The Developmental Services Center in Champaign is a great resource for children and adults with developmental disabilities. We’ve done an interview with Kelli Martin, member of DSC’s Sexual Resource Committee, who teaches human sexuality to adults with developmental disabilities.
Would you provide a short bio of your experience as a human sexuality educator?
I have worked at Developmental Services Center for 14 years and part of my responsibilities here includes being a member of our Sexuality Resource Committee. I have been a member of this team for almost 5 years. At DSC I provide education to our adult individuals, typically on a 1:1 basis. Topics taught have included basic body part identification and function, information on STIs and prevention, public vs. private, how to ask someone out on a date, male/female roles, navigating online dating, and everything in between. Prior to working at DSC I worked as an occupational therapy assistant in a variety of settings. Sometimes aspects of my job would include educating a patient on sexuality/body image/relationships after a physical injury in particular with young adults who had experienced traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries.
What is the most common misconception about sexual education that you encounter?
That we only teach people about having sexual intercourse.
What is one of your favorite topics to teach and why?
One of my favorite topics to teach has been about power in relationships. The conversation or session might start out about some sort of intimate/dating relationship and how power works, looks, feels in that sense, but then the points learned can be used in so many other relationship types. Many people, especially if they have a developmental disability have never had any control over their own life or felt that it was ok to make choices. It is very empowering to teach and a wonderful thing to witness when it finally clicks with the participant.
What do you find most difficult about teaching human sexuality?
I find the most challenging thing is to make sure that I don’t impose any of my own beliefs or biases into the session. I want to present objective information and then let the person make up their own mind about how that applies to them.
Could you give an example of what your teaching looks like (eg. how you have adapted existing material, an activity you like to use, how you have explained a specific concept)?
My teaching looks different from one participant to the next depending on their needs, but I like to use a lot of visual materials and I prefer to work 1:1. Pictures work well, but I like finding movies or YouTube clips that can emphasize or give a real representation of the point we are discussing. This was particularly helpful one session when the participant and I were discussing sexual harassment. He needed to see an example outside of himself to really understand what he was doing to others without realizing he was doing it.
What do you think is the greatest issue facing individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities regarding human sexuality?
I think the greatest issue continues to be that those without a disability still have the perception that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not able to understand, make decisions, or express themselves. The individuals are then limited by what the support people in their life think is best for them which rarely includes anything about sexuality, relationships, or asking them for their opinion about their own life.
In your teaching, how do you increase awareness about rape culture and sexual assault?
I am part of a statewide project called “Illinois Imagines”. Our local collaborative is made up of disability service providers, the rape crisis center and DHS. We work to improve services to women with disabilities who have been survivors of sexual violence. There is a tool kit which includes many activities and lesson plans for women with disabilities to learn more about speaking up for their right to say “No” against violence and also their right to say “Yes” to healthy relationships and expression of their own sexuality. Our local team has also put on a couple of workshops for disability and mental health service providers, emergency personnel, and hospital staff in how to assist someone with a disability who is in crisis from a sexual assault.
You Are in Charge of Your Body: A video series aimed at young children to identify and understand sexual abuse and how to communicate these incidents to adults. It also teaches children to take charge of their bodies.
Sexual violence comes in many forms and it can be difficult to distinguish them. Here’s a basic guide on how to classify types of sexual violence.
Sexual Harassment: Giving someone unwanted sexual attention. This can include touching someone’s body without their explicit permission, asking for sexual acts, and catcalling, which is an unwelcome, sexually charged comment.
Rape: Forced vaginal, anal, or oral sexual intercourse. Rape lacks clear consent. Rape can occur by strangers or people you know, even a partner. Sometimes, power is used to coerce a person into sexual intercourse. In these case, usually a person declines sexual advances and is then guilted into intercourse.
Statutory Rape: Sexual intercourse with a person who is a minor or not at the age of consent (which varies by state and country). Get more information on statutory rape and the age of consent here.
Incest: Sexual acts between people who are related. This can be siblings, parent-child, uncles/aunts and nephews/nieces.
Domestic Violence: Violence between two people in an intimate partnership. This includes threats and acts of violence (i.e. battery).
Stalking: When a person repeatedly follows, watches, or harasses someone for a long period of time. This can include excessive phone calls (i.e. five phone calls in one hours) and giving gifts.
So, how can we prevent sexual violence and protect ourselves and others against it?
Understanding sexual violence: By understanding the types of sexual violence, it can be easier to identify and understand how it can affect yourself and others.
Speak out if something doesn’t feel right: If you are feeling that you have been part of a sexual act that did not make you feel good or that you did not want to do, telling someone you trust or contacting a sexual assault survivor’s line can help clarify the situation.
Teach consent as a mandatory step in all sexual situations: Consent is a fancy way of saying “yes, I would like this to happen.” By giving consent, you are allowing another person to touch your body. You can tell them what you are and are not comfortable with (i.e. “I do not want to do vaginal sex, only oral”). Understanding that consent can change at anytime during the interaction is also important and can be overlooked. It’s okay to say “stop, I don’t want to have sex anymore.”
Here’s a quick video about consent, including examples of what consent looks like.
This activity can be used to teach about different intimate activities, either alone or with a partner. All of the actions come in a word list form and in a visual form. The activity includes a continuum worksheet in which activities can be classified as “less intimate” and “more intimate”.
One way to use this activity is to teach what sex is. We often assume that people understand what sex is, but people have difficulty with understanding sex even when it is explained. First list the acts of intimacy in a continuum and then discuss “where sex starts” or “which activities are sex and which ones are not. This is more difficult than it seems. For example, it is not uncommon for students to start with thinking that “kissing above the waist over the clothes” is sex. When we teach this activity, we encourage students to express their own understanding of what is more or less intimate but because the concept of a spectrum is difficult, we guide them at the anchors of what is the most inmate and least intimate. By seeing sex in the context of different sexual activities it helps fill in some of the gaps.
Instead of a continuum you could use categories- the categories we use help reinforce the idea of a continuum as well. There is also a list of different levels of intimacy that can be used to classify these activities. Using the activity in this way is consistent with the concept of postponement- postponing intercourse until a relationship is more serious of formalized.
Sometimes when people see all the different acts of intimacy they are surprised but it is important to be inclusive of all different forms of sexual expression. We also don’t use all the different acts with every group, but we’ve given you a pretty comprehensive list that you can tailor to meet your student or child’s needs.
Flirting can be a difficult subject to talk about because it always varies. This aid has some typical behaviors that are flirting, maybe flirting, and not flirting. It’s important to note that this is not a exhaustive list and that some of these behaviors are not guarantees of flirty or not flirty behavior, but it is a great place to start the conversation. This activity can be used to steer a conversation about how and when flirting occurs, and the fluidity of these behaviors.
Teaching and learning about privacy can be difficult and confusing. This activity uses a continuum of privacy (using private, semi-private, and public) to help differentiate privacy levels. There are two topics: body parts and places. You can use this activity to explain different privacy levels and explain contextual differences (i.e. a stomach can be a public body part at the beach, but a private body part at school) . Download the privacy activity places and body parts here!