Sex Ed or No Sex Ed?
The sex ed question comes with the inevitable permission slip appearance somewhere in the Middle School years. Parents need to be prepared to answer.
The answer is always 'yes', and although this doesn't mean necessarily to sign up your child for the typical reproductive health class, it might. Reproductive health classes are most importantly a way to protect your child. There are special curriculums for students with disabilities which address difference in intellectual capacity or social understanding.
It is important to note:
Children with disabilities are three times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse (deaf children experience especially high levels of sexual abuse).
Children diagnosed with behavioral disorders are 5.5 times more likely to experience sexual abuse.
Girls with language impairments are significantly more likely to experience sexual abuse.
Developmental service providers are the largest group that perpetrates sexual offenses against children with disabilities.
Experts in disability education are clear that parents should promote access to education and correct information about sexuality and their changing bodies. The START program at GVSU has built an extensive library for parents and educators, and written extensively about the topic, underscoring the importance for the development and protection of young people with disabilities. In their work on the subject, they have created a list for parents:
Start EARLY and be direct. Most experts agree that starting a few years before puberty (around age 10, or even earlier) is most helpful.
Sexual health education is not about sex, but about personal safety, self-knowledge, individual values, and social competence.
Before you can effectively communicate your values about sexuality to your children, you need to know what you believe and why. You are the main educators of sex for your child.
Be “askable” and ready. This means you should be prepared for any question or incident that involves your son or daughter’s sexuality. Answer questions simply and directly.
Understand the function of behaviors and work with your team to figure out ways to meet the needs of your child and teach appropriate behaviors (e.g. when and where).
Use the same teaching strategies that you have used to teach your children other skills, including visual schedules, checklists, videos, social facts, pictures of what is happening to their bodies, stories to predict what might occur, or specific terminology. Think of puberty as just another stage of development. Embrace it and move forward. (adapted from Toth, K, 2013)
Not all schools offer a modified reproductive health curriculum. Ask the question of your school special education department. If the answer is no, and your student needs a modified curriculum, point them towards the available resources at the START program. Encourage your school board to adopt one of the suggested curriculum. If time does not allow that option for your child, use the resources yourself to learn about how to present the topic and step into educator role for this topic. Many parents will find that they wish to co-educate their child on this topic, since it is influenced by personal family values.
The subject is an appropriate topic for your child's IEP! Put it on the agenda for your students next meeting.
Chiamulera, C. (2016, April 1). Children with Disabilities and Sexual Abuse: Risk Factors and Best Practice. Americanbar.org. Retrieved January 13, 2023, from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_interest/child_law/resources/child_law_practiceonline/child_law_practice/vol-35/april-2016/children-with-disabilities-and-sexual-abuse--risk-factors-and-be/
Grand Valley State University. START Connecting - We Need to Talk about It: Sexual Health and Students with ASD - START Project - Grand Valley State University. (2018, March 1). Retrieved January 13, 2023, from https://www.gvsu.edu/autismcenter/start-connecting-we-need-to-talk-about-it-336.htm