January 13, 2017

By Loreta Boskovic, Communication Specialist

I think we can all agree that our children experiencing disability are going to grow older, reach puberty, and push their way on through to adulthood. The question is, are YOU ready for this stage? Have YOU given thought to how your child is going to learn about their changing body and handle their attraction to others?

Presuming competence in our children means that we align ourselves with the belief that our children, given the right supports and information, can achieve a sense of self-identity and advocacy that is right for them. For ex., this can mean taking part (to whatever degree possible) in the IEP process; determining the activities in which they want to take part in the community; identifying employment that is meaningful and relevant to their interests and skills; and forming relationships with others that are deep, meaningful, and intimate.

This can be hard! Let’s face it: presuming competence often means that parents have to identify the learning steps that support a person getting from Point A to B in ways that parents of typically developing children don’t have to face. When it comes to human sexuality, that spotlight can center on questions that can be challenging for parents to answer:

  • How comfortable am I with knowing that my child will experience sexual desire?
  • Do I think my child will be prepared emotionally and physically to have a healthy sexual relationship when the time is right?
  • Can I support my child’s sexual orientation or gender identity if it differs from my own?

If you’re already thinking about these questions, you’re not alone. From FACT Oregon’s Facebook page:

Wondering if you are aware of any school districts who have developed curriculum for special education classrooms and are presenting information to students regarding Senate Bill 856 which requires developmentally appropriate education of all students (K-12) regarding prevention and understanding of sexual abuse. [Read the full post here.]

We contacted Oregon Department of Education [ODE] to get more information about SB 856. While focused on sexual abuse prevention, ODE’s approach to this bill is that sexual health promotion is sexual violence prevention. (There’s even a really cool Venn diagram explaining its approach.) This builds upon the existing human sexuality education that ODE has approved for Oregon students which is medically accurate, non-shaming, age appropriate, inclusive, and provided to all students, including those who receive special education services. You can read more about ODE’s sexual education information here.

Something to keep in mind: individual school districts are responsible for implementing sexual education curriculum, and whatever they choose does not need to be approved by ODE. If you have a concern, question, or comment about your child’s sexual education curriculum, you can contact Ely Sanders, MPA, ODE’s Sexual Health and School Health Educator, at ely.sanders@ode.state.or.us or (503) 947-5738.

If you want even more proof that sex ed is important for children experiencing disability, look no further than the following:

  • “Children with neurodevelopmental disabilities are 20 times more likely to experience early pubertal changes” (American Academy of Pediatrics, Sexuality of Children and Adolescents With Developmental Disabilities, 2005).
  • “Historically, this population has not been afforded the same sexual rights and freedom as those in the general population, despite the same human need for love, affection, and fulfilling interpersonal relationships. Restrictions on sexual activity have been based on the false and often contradictory belief that persons with developmental disabilities are either asexual or sexually aggressive, in the case of males; promiscuous, in the case of females; or too “childlike” to maintain healthy intimate relationships of their own” (Oregon Health Authority, How Developmental Disabilities Impact the Sexual Health of Young Adults, 2011).
  • “Children with disabilities are 2.9 times more likely than children without disabilities to be sexually abused. Children with intellectual and mental health disabilities appear to be the most at risk, with 4.6 times the risk of sexual abuse as their peers without disabilities” (Vera institute of Justice’s Center on Victimization and Safety, Sexual Abuse of Children with Disabilities: A National Snapshot, March 2013).

When we presume competence in our children experiencing disability, this does not stop at the doorstep of their sexuality. If anything, data shows that parents and caregivers need to be aware of the ways in which their child’s developing sexuality can be supported and expressed in a safe, appropriate, and respectful way. Children experiencing disability need to have access to information about preventing sexually transmitted diseases and sexual abuse; learning about menstruation and pregnancy; and yes, about sexual pleasure. This information can and should be delivered as specially designed instruction if that is what’s appropriate for your student.

Is your student getting access to sex ed? Do you feel like you have the information you need to support your child? FACT Oregon invites you to attend “Let’s Talk About Sex” on Thursday, February 2. This will be a workshop with Leslie Walker-Hirsch, IMED, FAAID, national speaker, author of “The Facts of Life …and More,” and co-creator of the Circles® Curriculum Series. She will be covering the Circles® Curriculum series, a multi-media teaching curriculum designed especially for students receiving special education.