One of the most controversial topics we face in schools today is sex education. Schools in Illinois vary greatly in the curriculum they offer ranging from none at all to abstinence-only to comprehensive sex education. Putting aside the moral, religious and other debates, the main issue here is safety. Regardless of our personal feelings about the topic the fact remains that children and teens must be educated about sex in a meaningful way, and if they are not educated at school or by parents they will develop ideas based on things they learn from friends or in the media, often to their detriment.
Children and adolescents with disabilities are often left out when it comes to sex education, although they are at a higher risk for sexual abuse than their typically developing peers. Statistics show that children with developmental disabilities are 4-10 times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse. Also rates of STDs are high among young adults with disabilities. So why aren't children who have disabilities receiving meaningful sex education?
Aside from the fact that sex education is a constant item of debate in the standard curriculum, there are many reasons. People who are disabled are often seen as uninterested or incapable of sexual activity, or on the other hand they are seen as sexually deviant. Regardless of common stereotypes all people need to be educated on this vital topic, that can have mortal and significant health consequences.
As the Center for Disability Information and Referral makes it clear, sex education may save a person's life. It is critical that children and teens with disabilities learn appropriate sexual behaviors. They must be taught when to say no and learn to advocate for themselves and report abuse. Children and teens with disabilities have a right to be taught to protect themselves, and often times as parents that job falls on us. There are numerous resources available in the form of books,workbooks, and videos. The particular workbook linked above has activities, pictures, worksheets, and text for children from kindergarten to grade 12. There are also tips for parents and caregivers on when to educate children and what type of words to use. In addition some families may need disability specific resources available to help parents talk to children. For example, this linked website concentrates solely on tips for talking to your child with autism . Another site answers questions parents and caregivers may have about sexuality and Downs syndrome. Parents of children who are deaf-blind and significantly developmentally delayed may find information useful in the book "Introduction to Sexuality Education for Individuals who are Deaf-Blind and Significantly Developmentally Delayed". There is a wealth of information on the web regarding sex education for those with disabilities.
However, there is typically no reason why sex education shouldn't be a part of your child's IEP. If sex ed is part of the standard curriculum then it too can be modified for those with special needs.
If the school does not believe that it is part of its obligation under IDEA, remind them of the broad mandate that is required under the heading of a transition plan. The end goal of the IEP process is to for individuals to have a productive and meaningful life. Going out into the world sexually ignorant, or worse vulnerable to predation, is not consistent with the requirements of the law.
The reality is we can't afford not to offer our children, all our children, comprehensive sex education. Resources for Parents and Educators The list of following resources are not endorsed by this site and should be previewed by parents/educators before using:
- https://www.albany.edu/aging/IDD/documents/parentworkbook.pdf. This is an interactive workbook called "Sexuality Education for Children and Adolescents with Developmental Disabilities.
- https://www.disabilitytraining.com/ddse.html Links to a variety of sex ed curriculums, including workbooks for below average readers.
- https://www.lifesupportproductions.co.uk/html/dvd.htm Information about a comprehensive sex ed DVD.
- https://www.parentscentre.gov.uk/educationandlearning/whatchildrenlearn/curriculumandassessment/sexandrelationshipeducation/ Links to printable books for adolescents and educators.
- https://www.tr.wou.edu/dblink/pdf/sex-ed.pdf An extensive resource for educating children who are deaf-blind and developmentally delayed.
- https://cshcnleaders.ichp.edu/HRTW-Materials/SexualityIssues.pdf A printable book called "Sexuality Issues for Youth with Disabilities and Chronic Health Issues."
- https://www.our-kids.org/Books/sexed.htm A listing of books on sexuality and sex education for educators, parents, and people with disabilities.
This whole subject no matter how taboo is one that is too critical to be ignored in the IEP. It is time for schools to get over the squeamishness of this subject and deal with the central issue of safety. For some schools it might be more palatable if the goals and the curriculum are labeled under the heading of safety and the sex part just happens to be a primary topic.