Healthy Realationships and Autism

healthy relationships and autismA new curriculum called “Healthy Relationships and Autism” is now available from Wesley Spectrum (a behavioral health organization with several locations in the Pittsburgh, PA area). It was designed to teach skills to adolescents and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder or cognitive challenges in the areas of self care, sexuality, and relationship development.  Their website has an example lesson to help you determine if it would be right for your students.  They do not publish their pricing information (you have to email them for more information but they will send you a sample packet).

I have not used this curriculum but there is some evidence of it’s effectiveness.  A study published in School and Educational Psychology evaluated this program with six students.  These students showed increases in sexual knowledge which they retained one month after completing the class.

PEERS Program

The Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS) was originally developed at UCLA by Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson, Founder and Director of the UCLA PEERS Clinic, and Dr. Fred Frankel in 2005 and has expanded to locations across the United States and the world. PEERS is a manualized, social skills training intervention for youth with social challenges.

There are four options for getting training in PEERS. (1) The PEERS Certified Training Seminar last two days and is hosted at UCLA.  It is designed specifically for mental health professionals and educators interested in learning and/or implementing the PEERS intervention into their clinical practice. (2) PEERS provides off-site training seminars, presentations or talks for a variety of agencies based on their specific needs.  These may range from 1-4 days, with varying costs. (3) The PEERS Certified School-based Training for Educators is designed exclusively for teachers, school psychologists, counselors, speech and language pathologists, administrators, and school-based professionals who are interested in learning to implement The PEERS Curriculum for School-based Professionals. Attendees will obtain 24 hours of training over 3 days and this training also takes place at UCLA. And (4) PEERS provides off-site School-based training seminars, presentations or talks for a variety of agencies based on their specific needs.  These may range from 1-4 days, with varying costs.

The PEERS program naturally lends itself to sex ed instruction.  For example, the adolescent program focuses on

  • How to use appropriate conversational skills
  • How to find common interests by trading information
  • How to appropriately use humor
  • How to enter and exit conversations between peers
  • How to be a good host during get-togethers
  • How to make phone calls to friends
  • How to choose appropriate friends
  • How to be a good sport
  • How to handle arguments and disagreements
  • How to change a bad reputation
  • How to handle rejection, teasing, and bullying
  • How to handle rumors and gossip

This video features a program that uses PEERS for sex ed

Autism in Love

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.

Puberty and Adolescence Resource: A Guide for Parents

puberty_coverThis tool kit from ATN/AIR-P provides information on body changes; self-care and hygiene; public vs. private rules; staying safe: strangers, secrets and touch; elopement; safety planning for increased aggression; and Internet safety.

Some of my favorite features:

  • Link to underwear designed to keep menstrual pads in place (I had no idea this existed!)
  • They have parent stories throughout.
  • They have suggestions for how occupational therapy can provide support.

Sexual Safety Resource: Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center

Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center is a program for sexual abuse prevention and response to crisis. They have supports specifically for children with disabilities. They recommend creating a family safety plan, teaching children about sex and sexuality, learning about sexual development, taking to caregivers/program staff about issues of sexuality, and watching others’ behaviors.I like this resource because the focus in on prevention through increasing the viability of sexuality.

ccac-header-logo

The culture that makes it inappropriate to talk about healthy sex and sexuality creates a hidden space where dangerous sexual behavior can take place.  Whenever we’re talking about prevention, I think that it is important to highlight that children and often adults with developmental disabilities cannot prevent their own abuse. Adults and older children with more power and more control manipulate to create situations where they can abuse. Prevention looks like trying to eliminate those spaces and creating opportunities for reporting.  This agency seems to focus on that method and minimize language that blames the victim.

Here is a webinar which aired live on December 9th, 2015 on Safety & Autism: Helping caregivers and providers talk about sexual abuse and prevention.

The Healthy Bodies Toolkit

Healthy bodiesThis publication was developed and written by Vanderbilt Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND).  There is a boy version and girl version.  Each version has a booklet for parents or teachers and supplemental materials which include storyboards and visuals that you can use in implementing the methods outlined in the toolkit.  It is free and there is a Spanish version!

Here is the website: https://vkc.mc.vanderbilt.edu/HealthyBodies/

Adult Human Sexuality Curriculum

These curricula materials are for educators working with young adults. It is a bit more in depth than the high school curriculum and discusses human sexuality in a broader sense.AdultHumanSexuality

Adult Human Sexuality Week 1: Welcome

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.

Lesson 1 Materials

Human Sexuality Newsletter Week 1

Adult Sexuality week 1 Lesson Plan

Lesson 1 Worksheet

8 Week Middle School Human Sexuality Curriculum

Over the summer, I did a 8 week sexuality class with middle school students with autism (3 boys and 3 girls).  I’ve posted each lesson from the curriculum, but I thought I’d link all the posts together so you could get to them in one place.  For each session there is a lesson plan, parent letter, and power point slides.  Some lessons also have worksheets.  I’ve also commented about how the lessons went and some ideas for adaptation.  Click on the links below to go to the posts and access the materials.

Human Sexuality 101 topic

*We sent home a workbook with follow up/supplemental material during this lesson.  The workbook is available on the post.

High School Human Sexuality 101 Week 1: Welcome

This summer, at TAP in Urbana-Champaign, we are doing an eight week human sexuality group for middle school students.  We have three boys and three girls in our group who range in age throughout the middle school years (from starting 6th grade to finishing 8th grade).   Check out the slides that accompany the lesson.

Our first week was a blast.  You can check out the full curriculum here [Sex Ed week 1].  We used a worksheet to help the students come up with their own definition of human sexuality.  I love the definition we came up with as a group, “Sometimes human sexuality topics make us feel uncomfortable, but it’s a part of life, specifically, part of our private life.  Human sexuality is about how we feel about people like loving someone and liking someone, but sometimes two people’s feelings may not match with each other. Human sexuality has to do with emotions, the body, and relationships.”

We sent a letter home with parents that explained the activities with fairly significant detail, touched on next weeks activities, and provided additional resources.  One of the important parts of this letter was suggestions for ways to incorporate these topics at home.  This week, as it was mostly about introductions, the parent component focused on using the rights and responsibilities at home.

Interview with Kelli Martin, Human Sexuality Educator

clips from the interview.

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.

To learn more about the Developmental Services Center or Illinois Imagines, please visit their websites.

You can download some information on Kelli here.

High School Human Sexuality 101 Week 2- Anatomy

FemaleReproductiveSystem_Lateral_250w

Anatomy and Reproduction were the topics for week 2. We started off the session with a game called “Parts and Post-it Notes” to talk about body parts with the participants. To play this game we had a giant piece of paper with the outline of a body on it. We gave the participants post-it notes to write down the body parts that they knew and asked them to place them on the outline of the body.

After this activity, the participants were told that for the rest of the class they would be focusing on body parts related to reproduction (another way to refer to sex organs or private parts). The participants were then directed to the next activity where they practiced saying terminology related to reproduction out loud and recording their responses to how saying the words made them feel.

When the participants finished the terminology activity, we spit them into two groups to start the fruit anatomical model of reproductive organs using fruit. The participants were shown a picture of the parts of the body and were giving tooth picks and flash cards to label the fruit parts and their functions. This activity was great for the participants to learn the vocabulary in a little abstract and safe way! For a more concrete example of reproduction, we used the “Miracle of Life” video to explain the process.

We ended this session by having the participants briefly summarize that they learned during the session.

For more information on anatomy view our Human Sexuality 101 Week 2- AnatomyEXPLAINING ANATOMYYOUTUBE EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES: HEALTHCHANNEL, SEXPLANATIONS, AND CSPHADULT HUMAN SEXUALITY WEEK 2- ANTATOMY & REPRODUCTION posts

This Week’s Materials

Week 2 Lesson Plan

Week 2 Slides

Parent Letter

Worksheets

Anatomy labels

High School Human Sexuality 101 Week 3: Body Image Lesson Plan

IMG_20120718_152104This lesson plan revolved around teaching what body image means, understanding that people feel differently about their bodies, and that people change how they feel about their bodies over time.  After doing several knowledge based activities, we moved to exploring how the students felt about their own bodies.

There was one theme that was really relevant for the student we were working with.  She was really interested in her perception of self and others perception of her.   In her self-portrait, she focused on the things that make her her; most of these were things you couldn’t see.

We also read body stories.  Each had a picture of a body.  Just seeing the images was really moving.  We were planning mostly for girls, but I included a story that might be more appropriate for a male audience.  The young woman chose to read the story about the women who was the most traditionally beautiful (not really a big surprise).  This was a story about a woman with chronic illness.  Serendipitously, the body story resonated concepts that this student was working through.

Materials

Lesson Plan

Slides

Parent Letter

Body Stories (all female) from This is Who I Am by Rosanne Olson (her website is http://bodyimagebook.com)

Body Story (male)

Dove Clip

Puberty Videos for Boys & Girls

DVDB101_outHere are videos that were developed for 10 – 17 year olds on the autism spectrum regarding puberty & other sexuality topics.  They are clear, concrete, and move through the material slowly (this is one of the biggest problems with videos for a general audience- they go too fast!)

My favorite thing about the videos is that the male instructor is an individual with autism.

All of the videos can be found on www.coultervideo.com, a website that sells videos by Dan & Julie Coulter.  Dan & Julie are parents of a son with ASD who started creating educational videos on their vacation and now do it full time.

Videos that may be useful:

Adult Human Sexuality Week 2- Antatomy & Reproduction

reproduction

You’re probably sick of seeing my fruity anatomical models, but I just can’t help myself from teaching them- at least I gave you a different picture.  I love that activity.  One of the participants in the class has trained to be an EMT and is now working on becoming an nurses assistant so he was able to explain the reproductive processes and anatomy.  On the other hand, other folks had a hard time looking at pictures of the developing fetus and seeing progression from cells to a more complex organism.  I think there just wasn’t enough context and exposure to those images.  All the participants in our class had this piece of sex ed before so they knew all the basic parts of anatomy.  We got into a nice discussion about reproductive anatomy and why it’s private and why it’s taboo.

When talking about reproduction, be careful not to limit conception to just intercourse (although this is critical information too).  In our activity we framed sperm entering the vagina as through intercourse or a medical procedure.  You could go into more depth and talk about different fertility options.  Why?  First, intercourse is not the only birth story and specifically it’s less likely to be the birth story for children with gay or lesbian parents.  I think it’s important not to assume that heterosexuality is the norm.  Second, many individuals have difficulty conceiving and need fertility support.   I think it’s important not to  assume fertility is the norm. 

For the supplemental materials my co-facilitator and I got into an interesting situation.  The book she wanted to use was only available in the children’s section at the public library.  It was a really nice resource, but we were concerned about sending adults to the children’s section.  All the reproduction books with pictures were in the children’s not fiction section.  In the end, we decided to include it, but put a warning where it was located.  I’m not sure this was the best choice, but that’s what we went with at the time.  We also encouraged participants to watch “Life’s Greatest Miracle”.  This is a great teaching tool, and they could stream it for free!

I’ve attached the lesson plan and supplemental materials below.

Materials