Open Future Learning is a company that offers a wide variety of online training for staff, or anyone else working with individuals with disabilities. They offer modules in abuse prevention, communication, advocacy, and many more topics. They have staff training modules, 30 minute programs, and an audio learning module. Membership can range from $112-$2263 per month, depending on the amount of active users. Linked below is Open Future’s Homepage.
Properly educating children on sex, puberty, and many other related topics can be challenging for parents. Many parents struggle with how they should speak to their child about these topics, and when the time is right. Sex Ed Rescue is a YouTube channel designed to educate parents on how to talk to their kids about these topics. This channel includes instructional videos, Q&A’s, children’s book reviews, and many other educational resources. It is a great resource to help parents educate their children on sex. It also helps to create a more age-appropriate environment for the child, and encourages comfortable communication between the child and the parent.
Linked below is the channel’s introduction video and the channel’s homepage.
Elevatus offers a variety trainings staff, direct support professionals, educators, self-advocates and parents to teach sexuality education to children and adults with developmental disabilities. In addition to their trainings, Elevatus has a sex education curriculum that can be purchased.
Here are examples of some of their trainings and the costs:
- For Staff and Professionals – Developmental Disabilities and Sexuality 101 ($397)
- For Parents/Guardians – Talking With Your Kids: Developmental Disability and Sexuality ($47)
- In-service/live workshops and a 3-Day Certificate Training ($725) for anyone who wants to lead sexuality education classes with people with developmental disabilities.
To get more information about Elevatus Training:-https://www.elevatustraining.com/
These days, it is hard to find an age appropriate content about sex, dating and abuse. Children have questions about their bodies, gender and reproduction. Teenagers worry if their bodies are developing normally or not while older adolescents struggle with peer pressure, changing relationships and emerging sexual feelings. AMAZE is an amazing website for parents and educators which helps them to expose their child to age appropriate content about sex through short videos. The website provides an insight to young people to successfully understand puberty, healthy body image, distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships, concepts of consent and mutual respect. Video topics are designed to meet the learning objectives outlined in the National Sexuality Education Standards.
Parents are the primary sexual educators of their children. By answering children’s questions, a parent let them know that you are “askable” and establishes an open line of communication that will serve you and your children well as they mature into sexually healthy young adults.
AMAZE also has resources for younger children like the parents’ playlist from amaze jr. It is designed to help parents become comfortable and confident talking to their children openly and honestly at any age.
There are some videos for parents reference.
This video will help parents to know when to talk about sexuality with their kids.
Do you think so playing “doctor – doctor” is safe or not? Check this video out which helps you to communicate your thinking and others about this game.
This video will model to the adolescents with disabilities to learn about manage their relationships with person they like or have attractions. This video guide them to deal with peer pressure and make healthy relationship.
This video helps your child to understand their body parts, difference between a male and female, and similarities between boy and girl.
Raising an individual with a disability presents a different set of obstacles then an abled individual may, but one topic that all parents must address is sexuality. Individuals with disabilities are sexual beings and therefore deserve an education on sexuality. While parents may acknowledge this need, finding resources and strategies to present the information may be more difficult if you are raising an individual who requires a different method of learning.
The Sexuality Resource Center for Parents provides a well rounded variety of information pertaining to sexuality. The website includes a section of information labeled “for all parents” that contains subjects they believe are useful for all children. In addition, they provide sections titles “For parents of children of typical development”, “For parents of children with developmental disabilities”, and “For parents of children with physical disabilities”. In each section, you can find a variety of information such as basics, specifics, activities, and additional resources. They also include tip guides!
The Sexuality Resource Center for Parents works to provide a better, comprehensive information base for parents to use when addressing sexuality to their child. The variety of knowledge is extremely useful when trying to find information to meet your child’s specific needs. In their own words, their mission statement claims “It’s time to acknowledge that children with developmental disabilities will become adults with sexual feelings, and as such, we must provide them with the information and skills they’ll need to become sexually healthy adults.“
The Association of University Centers on Disabilities has created an incredible resource for self-advocates to gain sexual information and advice through a webinar series. The first episode of Sex Talk for Self-Advocates contains a panel of sexual educators answering questions about relationships and sexuality posed by self-advocates. Important questions such as “How do you know if someone is your boyfriend or girlfriend? What exactly does consent mean? How to be gay?” are discussed. The webinar series can be accessed through the AUCD website, linked below, or by going to AUCD network’s youtube channel. The presentation slides containing information from the video can also be found on the AUCD website. Sex Talk for Self Advocates is a great free resource that contains informed speakers and spreads sexual education to a diverse group of individuals.
I had the honor of presenting at the Champaign-Urbana Autism Conference where Temple Grandin was the key note speaker. So much of her message could be applied to human sexuality instruction.
- Don’t yell “no!” Calmly tell people what they should be doing. (Dr. Grandin was talking about putting her finger in her water cup at the dinner table, but the same rule applies to masturbation).
- Give lots and lots of examples of what falls within a category and it will eventually build up the concept you are working on. (Dr. Grandin was talking about understanding church steeples but the same strategy can be used to understand body parts).
- Once you have a concept down use that concept to expand. (Dr. Grandin was talking about airplanes, but the same principle applies to privacy – one you get private body parts down you can use the concept of privacy to understand places and ideas).
- And from Eustacia Cutler (Dr. Grandin’s mother), “The more we understand how autism [and sexuality] works the less anxious we become.” And sexuality added.
I focused on goals for sexuality instruction across the lifespan (exploring, understanding boundaries, coping with changes, and living your story) as well as modalities for instruction (socialization, formal lessons, behavior planning, and advocacy). You can find my presentation here.
This is one of the most common questions regarding sexuality and disability…
If you are a guardian of an individual with a developmental disability what is your role and legal authority regarding decisions on sexual activity?
According to the National Guardianship Association:
Guardians should apply the professional judgment of qualified clinicians in developing individualized plans. These plans for services and supports should address competencies which the ward possesses, areas where education and
training are required, and current incompetencies which may implicate a duty to protect the individual. What this means in practical terms for professional guardians can be stated in four simple principles:
Know the law and regulations in the jurisdictions of your practice.
Know the bounds of your decision-making authority within your professional standards and ethics.
Know the extent and/or limitations of your decision-making authority imposed by the court.
Utilize treatment teams and ethics committees whenever possible.
One of the important pieces of these guidelines is understanding the law and regulations in your individual state. Sterilization and abortion are two major sexuality related decisions that often have specific laws and regulations regarding their practice. These have evolved from a long history of forced sterilization of individuals with disabilities and there continues to be controversy today (for example this recent case). Other decisions such as access to sexuality education, use of contraceptives, marriage, procreation, and access to sexual activity are often outside of the purview of the courts. In these cases guardians are instructed to use their own judgement based on:
The decision as the ward would when the ward’s wishes are known or can be established by interviewing the ward, their friends and family, or through a preference stating document such as a living will. Or…
The representatives values and beliefs in order to make the decision they feel would best serve the ward.
And must follow this stipulation:
The surrogate decision maker cannot give consent for sexual activities, but
must protect the rights to privacy for their wards when dealing with issues such as contraception or marriage, if the situation is appropriate.
I think you are going to love this movie. It’s beautiful, emotional, and honest. I could easily see this being used in a human sexuality classroom to help discuss parenting, consent, and support from families. It follows the story of a young couple who are faced in a situation many young couples find themselves in, an unexpected pregnancy. Like many young couples, the response of their families is shock and disappointment and this makes it difficult to determine their own feelings, hopes, and wants.
There was one statistic that was mentioned in the film that I had not heard before. It said that a women with Down Syndrome has a 50% chance of having a child with Down Syndrome. I did a little digging to see if I could find out more and received some help from The Tech Geneticist a project from the University of Stanford which seeks to increase the public understanding of genetics. About half of the eggs of a women with Down Syndrome will have an extra 21st chromosome (similar to what is described in this post http://genetics.thetech.org/ask/ask296). Her actual chance of having a child with Down Syndrome is less than 50% because fetuses with extra 21st chromosomes are at increased risk of complications. According to the National Down Syndrome Society only about 50% of women with Down Syndrome are fertile (ovulate).
It’s trickier when it comes to thinking about the father. Much less is known about the heritability (chance of passing a genetic trait on) of Down Syndrome for men with Down Syndrome, but it may be that their sperm that carry two 21st chromosomes would be less viable than their sperm that only have one. Both the Tech Geneticist and the National Down Syndrome Society suggested men with Down Syndrome seem to have much lower fertility rates than their same age peers with two 21st chromosomes.
The 1 hour and 13 minute movie, Autism in Love, is about falling in love, wanting to fall in love, the struggle of understanding love, and heartbreak. More than that, this movie is about what it means to be autistic, how love shapes identity, and the support of family. There are multiple viewing options but it is currently airing for free on Independent Lens. It follows the stories of four individuals on the autism spectrum as they navigate issues of love and relationships.
Here is a guide for using the film as a teaching tool: Autism in Love Viewing Guide
This movie is more geared toward adults as the youngest person featured in the film is in his early 20s and much of the film centers on marriage. If you were working with older teens, you may want to focus on Lenny.
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.
You can find the guide 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.*
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 can download some information on Kelli here.
YouTube has a lost of great sexuality education resources but it can be hard to find among all of the “not safe for work” content. Here’s a few channels and videos that might be useful. One of the most difficult tasks sex educators report is explaining intimate acts. This can be uncomfortable and difficult so I’ve tried to focus on these difficult to teach topics. The videos may not be the best fit for the person/people you’re working with, but they can give you an idea where to start. The channels also have great resources for expanding your own education on sexuality topics.
The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health (CSPH) has a lot of great videos. Is one of my favorite cites. In addition to having direct information they also have videos for parents (“Use Your Words” videos).
Healthchannel is a YouTube channel with short videos on a variety of health care issues including sexual health resources including a few I’ve listed below. The videos aren’t prefect. They don’t feature animations with people with disabilities and focus on heterosexual couples, but they give very precise, clear information.
Sexplanations is another YouTube channel. They have mini episodes on human sexuality topics from shared sexual behavior to STDs to anatomy. Again the videos aren’t perfect. They move a little too quickly than I would like, but I’ve selected a few I think could be helpful. They could also be good to expand your own understanding of various topics.
I recently did a presentation at the Illinois Council on Family Relations (ILCFR). I thought I’d share that presentation with you. I hope you find it useful. It’s about the framework I’ve used to design this website. The framework is based on the one that was published in the Journal of Family Relations by Hughes, Bowers, Thomann Mitchell, Curtiss (me), and Ebata. Feel free to contact me if you would like more information on developing an online program. The link takes you to the presentation in an interactive format or you can view it as a pdf: Interactive or PDF.