Yep! I’m going there! First, I apologize for stalling out a little bit on the ABCs series. But I definitely restarted the series with a bang! Talking about sex! This topic makes some people uncomfortable and I know it’s difficult to even think of our typical children as sexual beings, let alone our children with special needs. But, like it or not, they will mature, they will go through these changes, so it’s up to us to prepare them. I want to thank my friend Ron Steen for this guest post. Sex ed and the child with an IEP–something we all need to think about and be prepared!
How do you talk to your children about sex? I have been thinking about this a lot lately. How much to tell them, when to tell them. I am lucky in that my family was always open about sexuality. It wasn’t something only talked about from behind closed doors so I am not embarrassed or nervous about having the talk. What has me concerned is how to talk to our children with intellectual disabilities, with behavioral problems, with self image problems, with problems being bullied, the list goes on. Each one of these has its own problems and solutions, but most of all even though your child is behind in reading, math, social skills etc. does not mean that puberty will wait until they are ready. This needs to be recognized both at home and in the school.
As for the school, your involvement with the school is going to depend greatly on the trust or lack there of that your school has earned. If you are not comfortable with your neurotypical children going to sex education at their school, are you going to be comfortable with how the school differentiates instruction when it comes to this most important matter? Does the health teacher have any frame of reference to do a differentiation of instruction that is meaningful to your child? Does the special teacher have any frame of reference to teach sexual education? If you are comfortable with your health teacher and a member of the child’s IEP team working together to develop a meaningful curriculum for this, then you can start counting your blessings. If not, what role do they need to take with your child? How do you want body changes, sexual urges, rejection handled by the school staff? This is important as a parent to consider and to communicate with school staff.
At home, the first thing we need to explain to our children is that their bodies are going to start changing. We need to explain how their bodies are going to change, in detail. We need to explain why their bodies are changing. This is a personal transition that is major, that is happening at the same time as they are transitioning to middle school which is a huge transition in and of itself. It is a physical, a psychological and a social change that are all happening at the same time! Even if your child handles transitions well, this can be a tumultuous time. If your child does not handle transitions well, then start talking early and often. Face the little tantrums now, to avoid major meltdowns later.
Please do not overlook the problems of peer pressure at this time. There is tremendous pressure for kids to conform, to not stand out. Our kids stand out naturally. This can make them targets for abuse. You need to have a very open dialogue with your child, so you are aware of what is going on with them as their bodies mature. Our children do not have the natural defense mechanisms that neurotypical children do, and neurotypical children have plenty of problems dealing with puberty. Inclusion of our children with neurotypical children has aided in our children’s social development, but how will that transition during puberty.
I think I posed more questions than I answered with this post, but I think I posed the questions you must ask yourself so you can help your child at this critical time. This isn’t an easy answer post. It is a think on it, decide for yourself, mull it over, but most importantly act post.
Ron Steen, BCEA
Ron Steen lives in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, is a Board Certified Educational Advocate, has served on the Advisory Board of the National Special Education Advocacy Institute, and has been a guest instructor on Assistive technology during NSEAI training.
Thanks Ron for this post! As always, we’d love to hear your ideas, comments and suggestions. How are you planning to handle sex ed with your special needs child? Or how did you handle sex ed and your child with an IEP?