While the mainstream is becoming increasingly aware and accepting of disabilities, there is still a lack of representation. People with both physical and intellectual disabilities rarely ever see people like them in books, movies, on TV, or in many other forms of entertainment. On top of this, resources regarding sexual health, relationships, and puberty for disabled individuals practically don’t exist.
Woodbine House is a publishing company that specializes in informational books for individuals with intellectual disabilities. They have many books aimed at all different age groups that provide information on an array of topics pertaining to disabilities. On their website, they have different sections for Down Syndrome, Autism, and ADHD/ADD. Some of their sexual health based books include: Teaching Children With Down Syndrome About Their Bodies, Boundaries and Sexuality, Boyfriends & Girlfriends: A Guide to Dating for People with Disabilities, and A Boys/Girls Guide to Growing Up. These books help teach people to identify body parts, how to identify/express emotions, personal hygiene, dealing with puberty, relationship safety and many other things.
Every one of their books features people with the disability they’re discussing, and they provide accurate and accessible books for all ages. These books are non-clinical and easy to read, and they are intended for everyday use. On top of this, they’re extremely accessible and informational. This company consistently provides parents and children with informational books that are practical, empathetic and empowering, and they push disabled issues into the public eye. It is a great example of increasing representation and inclusivity in media!
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.
“Join friends Malia, Rico, Max, Sam and Alexis as they talk about all the weird and exciting parts of growing up! This supportive group of friends are guides for some tricky subjects. Using comics, activities and examples, they give encouragement and context for new and confusing feelings and experiences.
Inclusive of different kinds of genders, sexualities, and other identities, they talk about important topics like:
– Bodies, including puberty, body parts and body image – Sexual and gender identity – Gender roles and stereotypes – Crushes, relationships, and sexual feelings – Boundaries and consent – The media and cultural messages, specifically around bodies and sex – How to be sensitive, kind, accepting, and mature – Where to look for more information, support and help
A fun and easy-to-read guide from expert sex educators that gives readers a good basis and an age-appropriate start with sex, bodies and relationships education! The perfect complement to any school curriculum.”
A 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.
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.
During week 4, we focused on understanding crushes.
There were three activities for the participants this week:
What is a crush?
The participants first brainstormed things that a person with a crush might feel or think. Participants had different levels of understanding on what having a crush meant to them. The purpose of this activity was to help the participants to understand that crushes are a special set of thoughts and feelings about another person. We later discussed thoughts and ideas that the group may have that may be unsafe when it comes to having a crush.
Intimacy was the focus of week 5. This concept can be difficult to understand because it is very broad so this is how we talked about it in our class.
We talked about how intimacy can be divided into two parts: physical and emotional. Physical intimacy involves expressing ones feelings for another person through a physical manner (holding hands, hugging, kissing, and sexual activity). While emotional intimacy involves the feelings towards another person. It is based on how comfortable you are with someone and how much you can share with them. It is important to understand that there are levels to intimacy and that it is not necessarily just for two people in a dating relationship.
For this week’s activities, we opened up with a discussion on the numerous ways to have intimacy with someone. During group time, our plan was for participants to create a “Intimacy Chart”.
We provided them with pictures displaying different types of intimacy ( holding hands, hugging, etc.) and asked them to write down how each of the pictures made them feel. After that we arranged the picture in order to what we felt would be the natural progression of relationships. To finish off the activity we categorized each picture based on whom we are comfortable doing those actions with. The main purpose of the “Intimacy Chart” is to help the participants to visualize the different types of intimacy.
Although this was the plan, one of our students had a different idea of how she should do this activity. She asked for a folder and then decorated it with her boyfriends name. She then put the different acts of intimacy she felt comfortable with in the folder. At first, she didn’t want to share which behaviors she had chosen, but then she decided that she would share. What a great spontaneous adaption!
The main activity this week was a series of worksheets designed around walking participants through the steps of having a crush: places to meet someone, why you notice someone, deciding to talk to them or not, signs of being interested, approaching someone, asking out on a date, and saying “No”. Probably the most difficult question on the worksheets was, “why do you notice this person?” Many of the participants focused on things the would like if they got to know someone. It took several prompts, but they were able to start thinking about the things they notice about others, the things that draw their attention. When we got to different ways to approach someone there were many questions on bar etiquette. We talked about buying drinks for others, when it’s expected to approach people and when it’s not, and the difference between the bar sitting area and table sitting area. We didn’t get to our final activity, but were were going to sequence the road map with pictures of couples at different stages. We have a little bit of a time management problem because there’s no clock in the room. It’s the little things!
The previous week focused on crushes so this week’s topic, dating, was a natural extension. We did a lot of role playing and it went wonderfully. We were able to pull out parts of the role play to reinforce many of the different concepts. The last time I had done role playing was with middle school students- adults are just so much different to work with. They took the role plays very seriously and put a lot of effort in. One of the actors did turn out to have a comedic streak so the activity was fun as well as thoughtful.
We also did an activity where we asked participants to think about the characteristics in a relationship that were most important to them. We had a couple red flags on the list (like one about physical mutuality) and they were all tuned into why that is important. This activity lead to a nice open discussion where we talked about other items on the list that were important to us. For the most part, people in the group are really centered on having similar interests and values.
For those of you who have come to a workshop, this activity was similar to what we did in the workshop. We thought about power and control in relationships and specifically the benefits of having more power, benefits of having less power, drawbacks to having more power, and the drawbacks to having less power. Once we got it all up on the board we used put a circle in the center and talked about how different situations would be red flags that a relationship would be unsafe. We also did a shortened version of the “What Should I do Worksheet” and role played some of the different scenarios (like one friend calling another friend because her boyfriend just told her there was a greater age difference than she assumed).
We want more people to get good sexuality education so feel free to use our materials. If you improve on them, let me know!
One of the participants in our group loves to do trainings and so we included a online training program to identity dating violence in teen relationships. You may find this site really useful too. Dating Maters offers a 1 hour and 20 minute training that will allow you to identify examples of teen dating violence and understand the consequences of teen dating violence. The training will teach you the risk factors, protective factors, warning signs, and challenges for seeking help for teen dating violence. The material is a good starting place for adult relationships too.
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.
What is facilitated sex? This brief video explains what facilitated sexual activity is and some of the considerations.
Dr. Mitchel Tepper is an expert in the area of sexual health, disabilities, and medical conditions with a specific focus on physical disabilities. His website can connect you with a lot of great information (I especially like his blog).
Some things to keep in mind about facilitated sex…
Facilitated sex is a continuum. Dr. Sarah Earle suggests it might include providing sex education, fostering an environment that allows intimacy, the procurement of sexual goods, and arranging for paid-for sexual services.
Many individuals with disabilities would be unable to participate in many parts of sexual expression without some level of facilitation.
It’s not that abuse and victimization aren’t concerns- they are! It is also important to consider how to support individuals with exploring sexual pleasure and sexual facilitation is part of that picture.
There are many different ways to make visuals: cut and paste from magazines, jot down words and images, use Boardmaker, use power point…
For each method there are different pros and cons and a lot can be said for something that’s just plain easy to use. I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with a visual that has been made quickly- if it gets the message across, it doesn’t have to look nice.
But sometimes it is important for for a visual to be ascetically pleasing- and I wanted to share a free tool that’s available for making infographics (what marketers and advertisers call visual supports). It’s not particularly easy to use and it takes more time, but in the end you have a nice looking product. I would use this I wanted to make something I could use over and over (it’s worth the time) or if I was working with someone who thinks my regular visuals are “babyish”. You have to be careful about resisting the temptation to over clutter. There are several different generators, but for no cost, this one has the most flexibility and is relatively easy to use. http://www.easel.ly/
This topic generated a lot of good discussion. Our group was a little distracted today (maybe because we had a week break). For next week we’re going to try a few different classroom management strategies so we can try to spend more time focused. We’re going to simplify the rights and the responsibilities and give them 3 rules (no talking when I’m talking, no hitting, and no mean comments). We’ll also use a visual stop sign for if the group gets out of control. I’ll keep you posted how it goes! Having said that, despite distractions, I’m confident the group did learn a few things about crushes.
Activities this week…
What is a crush?
Students brainstormed what a person with a crush might be thinking and feeling. Students varied in their level of understanding as to what a crush is. This activity helped students understand that crushes are a special set of thoughts and feelings about another person. They will learned from each other what those thoughts and feelings are. None of the students in our group expressed ideas about what a crush is that would not be safe if acted upon (I was thinking someone might say something like, “I just want to stare at the person all the time and follow them around.”) We were ready to address any of the items from the brainstorm that were unsafe. In later discussion we labeled some ideas as unsafe.
How to deal with a crush
We’re used a short video to outline four steps for managing a crush: don’t tell everyone, hang out with mutual friends, talk to them directly, and don’t take it personal if they don’t like you back. As we watched the video we filled out a worksheet. The video gives very concrete advice for how to manage a crush. The questions on the worksheet helped students think about what they might say and how they may feel when trying to manage a crush.
This is where they got a little distracted. In the future, I would shorten the worksheet so there is only one question per tip. I would maybe have them work on answering the questions with a partner, then sharing with the group.
Turning someone down
We introduced students to three strategies for turning someone down or saying “NO”: no with a reason, no with an alternative, and no and go. We introduced these strategies as a way to avoid unwanted crushes. They can be used in many contexts, but especially in the future, could be use to avoid unwanted sexual behavior. Students role-played saying no in different ways to someone who has a crush on them. The role-plays worked really well! Role-playing can be difficult but it’s a great tool for rehearsing concepts that your hoping students will be able to perform in the future.