Sexual Education is known to be a vital part of education that many people with disabilities do not receive. The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) developed an excellent series of youtube videos aimed to help close this gap. The sex ed for individuals with I/DD project is a 10 part video series that can be seen on youtube. The project contains videos that discuss a range of important sexual information from healthy relationships and consent to how to use a condom. The videos also contain self advocates. Understanding that individuals with disabilities are sexual beings and informing such individuals on all sexual topics is extremely important. The NCIL’s video series is an amazing resource. Linked below is the introduction video to the series. The videos can also be accessed though the Nation Council on Independent Living youtube channel.
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.
Sexuality and Disability is a free blog dedicated to providing a resource for women with disabilities. The blog answers questions pertaining to sex, the body, relationships, and more in a safe and open discussion. The welcome statement of the website encompasses this;
“Our site starts with the premise that people with disabilities are sexual beings – just like anyone else. sexualityanddisability.org is constructed as a bunch of questions a woman with a disability might have – about her body, about the mechanics and dynamics of having sex, about the complexities of being in an intimate relationship or having children, about unvoiced fears or experiences of encountering abuse in some form.”
Sexuality and Disability also includes an award-winning section that appeals to many individuals with disabilities that contains stories from the point of view of an individual with a disability and gives an in depth and realistic view on sexual topics.
From the Publishers:
Key social and emotional milestones during adolescence are often directly related to the abilities to initiate and maintain intimate relationships, maintain physically maturing bodies, and manage personal sexuality. Most adolescents with developmental disabilities have particular difficulty expressing sexuality in satisfying ways, consequently facing issues such as limited intimate relationships, low self-esteem, increased social isolation, deregulated emotional maintenance, reduced sexual functioning, and limited sexual health.
Appropriate sexual knowledge assists not only in achieving personal fulfillment, but protection from mistreatment, abuse, unplanned pregnancies, or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It also works to help solve problems of loneliness and problems with self-esteem.
This book will address this but also much more. Issues of physical and cognitive development will be discussed, including appropriate sexual development/urges and brain development, and innate similarities and differences of sexuality that could occur between people with autism spectrum disorders and intellectual or developmental disabilities, including the complexities of physical disabilities. The authors will also consider special considerations for group homes and recreational facilities, and specifically focus on concepts of ethics and models of consent (medical, legal, social, and educational), as well as how to deal with uncertainty.
Both Hape and Melissa & Doug have made anatomically correct body puzzles.
Hape sells boy and girl puzzles separately for around $20.00 each. The children are pre-pubescent and European American. The video below shows a child completing the puzzle. The toys are distributed by Hape but are actually made by a company called Beleduc out of Holland. Beleduc also has a great pregnant mother puzzle that is a little difficult to find.
Melissa & Doug make a magnetic human body play set that includes children of both genders for about 13.00. The children are early adolescents and European American.
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.
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
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.
This 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/
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.
- Lesson 1 Welcome
- Lesson 2 Anatomy
- Lesson 3 Puberty
- Lesson 4 Reproduction
- Lesson 5 Crushes
- Lesson 6 Body Image
- Lesson 7 Hygiene
- Lesson 8 Wrap up and Review*
*We sent home a workbook with follow up/supplemental material during this lesson. The workbook is available on the post.
This 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.
Body Story (male)
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.
- Anatomy & Reproduction lesson plan
- Anatomy & Reproduction Worksheet Packet
- Anatomy-cheat-sheet (explains reproductive organs and their functions at two levels)
- labels (for fruity anatomical models)
- Reproduction Level 1 (this one has fewer pictures and the language is a little simpler)
- Reproduction Level 2 (this is more appropriate for individuals with no cognitive impairments)
- Connections Newsletter Week 2 (this is a newsletter that goes home with participants and expands on topics covered in the class)
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!
We gave them two additional resources this week. First we sent them to a website on how to build self confidence. We also suggested the book, What Men With Asperger Syndrome Want to Know About Women, Dating and Relationships by Maxine Aston.
Get all the materials for this weeks lesson
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.
Free free to use the materials we’ve developed.
Materials for this week
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!
This Weeks Materials
- Connections Lesson Plan Week 5 Power in Relationships
- Worksheet packet 5
- Connections Newsletter Week 5
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.