Sexual education for young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities is extremely important. Born This Way, a reality television show that stars seven diverse young adults with Down syndrome, is doing its part to highlight this.
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, an average of 59,000 adults with disabilities are raped or sexually assaulted each year. Approximately half of all adults with cognitive disabilities will experience 10 or more sexually abusive incidents in their lifetime.
The Born This Way episode on June 20, 2017 highlighted the importance of sexual education as it relates to dating and marriage. The cast spokewith Terri Couwenhoven MS, CSE, a well known sex educator and author. Couwenhoven specializes in the design and implementation of sexuality programs and resources for people with cognitive disabilities, their parents and the professionals who support them.
In coordination with Couwenhoven, RespectAbility released a lengthy guide featuring resources for sexual education for children, teenagers and adults with disabilities, with a focus on those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
General Sexuality Resources:
Teaching Children with Down Syndrome about Their Bodies, Boundaries, and Sexuality: A Guide for Parents and Professionals by Terri Couwenhoven
A comprehensive “how-to teach about sexuality” resource that offers practical information and teaching ideas for addressing a wide variety of sexuality issues across the life span. Includes loads of “use at home” activities that are useful for teaching about the body, privacy, social rules, relationships and exploitation prevention. Detailed and realistic drawings that can be used for teaching are included in the appendices.
A Q&A with parents and Terri Couwenhoven on topics such as how to prepare your child for dating, how to help your teenager find people to date and how to help prevent your teenager from being hurt or exploited.
An excerpt from Teaching Children with Down Syndrome About their Bodies, Boundaries, and Sexuality: A Guide for Parents and Professionals.
A curriculum designed to help students with disabilities understand and embrace their own sexuality by learning how to make and accept responsibility for making personal choices. A Teacher’s Manual, Student Manual and Power Point printout provide step-by-step guidance for examining relationship and self-esteem issues, including: self-image, emotions, values and attitudes; relationships, sexuality, health, safety and positive adult behavior.
Sexuality and Relationship Education for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Professional’s Guide to Understanding, Preventing Issues, Supporting Sexuality and Responding to Inappropriate Behaviours by Davida Hartman
An excellent book for parents or professionals for understanding, preventing, supporting and responding to sexual issues that surface in childhood, preadolescence, adolescence and adulthood.
Sexuality and Severe Autism: A Practical Guide for Parents, Caregivers and Health Educators by Kate Reynolds
This handbook helps the reader through the process of teaching about sexuality to people with more significant autism. The author shares ideas about when, what and how to begin the process of teaching and addresses both male and female puberty. Menstruation, public, private sexual behaviors, sexual abuse and reporting.
Sexuality Education for Adults with Developmental Disabilities by Planned Parenthood of Greater Northern New England and Green Mountain Self Advocates
A unique curriculum designed to help people establish sexuality education groups and include self advocates as teachers. This comprehensive curriculum focuses mostly on relationships, both friendships and romantic relationships, and the skills and responsibilities needed within those relationships.
A teacher-friendly curriculum that provides student lessons on teaching relationships, public and private, communication, body changes, feelings, reproduction, STDs, birth control and exploitation prevention. Geared toward high school students with mild/moderate cognitive disabilities. Distributed by Family Planning Publications, Seattle-King County Department of Public Health.
Hygiene and Self Care
First Impressions Can Make a Difference by James Stanfield Company
A four-module video series that addresses male and female showering, hygiene, grooming, dress and attitude using humor and exaggeration. Modules can be purchased separately or as a package.
Taking Care of Myself: A Hygiene, Puberty and Personal Curriculum for Young People with Autism by Mary Wrobel
This book is essentially a social stories curriculum for teaching about body changes, appropriate sexual behavior and encouraging independence with hygiene and self care. Great ideas for creating teaching tools using Boardmaker and Picture This picture symbol programs.
Finger Tips: Teaching Women with Disabilities About Masturbation Through Understanding and Video by David Hingsburger and Sandra Haar
A video and teaching program for adult females with developmental disabilities that models safe and appropriate masturbation.
Hand Made Love: A Guide for Teaching About Male Masturbation Through Understanding and Video by David Hingsburger
A video and teaching program for adult males with developmental disabilities that models safe and appropriate masturbation.
Puberty & Body Changes
A Girl’s Guide to Growing Up: Choices and Changes in the Tween Years by Terri Couwenhoven MS
This book, designed specifically for girls with developmental disabilities of all kinds, shares information about physical and emotional changes that accompany puberty, menstruation and pad use, and exploitation prevention strategies. Text is written at a third grade reading levels and lots of pictures help comprehension for concrete learners.
This Marsh media teaching kit designed for students with mild to moderate disabilities includes teaching guide and packets of 10 student booklets. The instructional material is organized in chapter format, allowing for lesson breaks, instructional focus and revision. Topics include external anatomy, physical and emotional changes of puberty, health and hygiene and privacy and safety. Parent teaching materials are available for purchase separately.
This Marsh media video builds on the above video but also includes information about boy’s bodies, more detail on female anatomy and functions of sexual organs, a definition of sexual intercourse with an emphasis on privacy and maturity, societal behavior related to public & private, as well as safety information (touching, secrets and strangers). Teaching guides include pre- and post-test measures designed to focus on the important ideas from each chapter. Parent teaching materials are available for purchase separately.
Another Marsh media video series designed for students with mild to moderate developmental disabilities. The teaching kit includes teaching guide and packets of 10 student booklets. The instructional material is organized in chapter format, allowing for lesson breaks, instructional focus and revision. Topics include external anatomy, physical and emotional changes of puberty, health and hygiene and privacy and safety.
This video series builds on the above video but also includes information about girl’s bodies, more detail on male anatomy, functions of sexual organs, a definition of sexual intercourse with an emphasis on privacy and maturity. Societal behavior related to public & private, as well as safety information (touching, secrets and strangers) are included. Teaching guides include pre- and post-test measures designed to focus on the important ideas from each chapter. Parent teaching materials are available for purchase separately.
The Boy’s Guide to Growing Up: Choices & Changes During Puberty by Terri Couwenhoven
This book is designed specifically for puberty-aged males with more moderate developmental disabilities (third grade reading level). Content includes information about body changes and handling sexual feelings. The book emphasizes social appropriateness with lots of pictures to help comprehension for concrete learners.
A compilation of social stories addressing a wide range of topics relevant to puberty.
A compilation of social stories addressing a wide range of topics relevant to puberty.
Reproductive and Sexual Health
Women be Healthy: Evaluation of a Women’s Health Curriculum for Women with Intellectual Disabilities by Yona Lunsky, Amy Straiko and Sharon Armstrong
This curriculum was developed to enable women with intellectual disabilities and other developmental disabilities to become more active participants in their health care. Its primary emphasis is teaching women about reproductive health and breast/cervical cancer screenings.
A book and video for teaching men with disabilities how to use a condom.
Boundaries in Relationships & Dating
Boyfriends & Girlfriends: A Guide to Dating for People with Disabilities by Terri Couwenhoven
An introduction to dating basics written for people with intellectual disabilities. Covers handling sexual feelings & crushes, dating basics, how to start a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, boundaries, sharing touch and affection, fixing problems in relationships as well as staying safe. Interactive activities are included with lots of illustrations.
Circles I: Intimacy and Relationships by Leslie Walker-Hirsch, James Stanfield Company
A well respected program that uses videos and vignettes to teach social distance, changing relationships and relationship-building skills. Appropriate for students from middle school through adulthood.
Intimate Relationships and Sexual Health: A Curriculum for Teaching Adolescents/Adults with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Social Challenges by Catherine Davies MEd & Melissa Dubie MS
Units include anatomy, reproductive health, sexual response cycle, contraception and STI’s, dating, stages of relationships, attitudes, values and differences. Each unit includes web site resources and youtube videos for homework supplementation.
Mike’s Crush by Nancy Nowell
A video that revolves around vignettes involving “Mike” (on DVD), a high school student who needs help understanding sexual feelings, ways to handle them appropriately and dating. Lesson plans address hygiene, relationships, body language, basic relationships skills, rules and laws and aspects of healthy relationships.
Social Skills & Handling Feelings
A 5 is Against the Law! Social Boundaries: Straight Up! An Honest Guide for Teens and Young Adults by Kari Dunn Baron
This resource uses scaling to classify behaviors from informal, social behavior to threatening, hurtful and illegal behavior. It aims to help teens and adults understand other’s perspectives and keep themselves safe. Simply laid out, contains good, visual exercises.
Promoting Social Success: A Curriculum for Children with Special Needs by Gary N. Siperstein and Emily Paige Rickards
An excellent and comprehensive teaching curricula that includes detailed lesson plans for facilitating skill development in the areas of understanding feelings and actions, noticing and interpreting social cues, problem-solving in social situations and friendships.
The Incredible 5- Point Scale by Kari Dunn Buron and Mitze Curtis
A unique system for teaching and supporting students on the spectrum in understanding social interactions and controlling their emotional responses.
Exploitation Prevention and Sexual Assault / Abuse
RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, an average of 59,000 adults with disabilities are raped or sexually assaulted each year. Approximately half of all adults with cognitive disabilities will experience 10 or more sexually abusive incidents in their lifetime. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE, online.rainn.org and rainn.org/es) in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help victims and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. Learn more about their work from their webinar with RespectAbility: Sexual Violence and People with Disabilities -Lessons on Prevention, Protection and Survival from RAINN.
The Ring of Safety by David Hingsburger
This article states that people with disabilities need to learn skills to reduce their vulnerability to sexual victimization. Individuals with disabilities often have lived in protective systems that have assumed the responsibility for keeping people within those systems safe. When that protection fails, the temptation is to blame the victim for the assault. This article presents six avenues of self protection: sex education; privacy awareness; the ability to non-comply; access to someone who listens; understanding of personal rights; and a healthy self-concept.
A Risk Reduction Workbook for Parents and Service Providers: Policies and Practices to Reduce the Risk of Abuse Including Sexual Violence Against People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (2013) by Nora Baladerian
This publication includes background information on sexual abuse and people with developmental disabilities as well as a planning and assessment process for reducing risk.
Just Say Know: Understanding and Reducing the Risk of Sexual Victimization of People with Developmental Disabilities by David Hingsburger
This book focuses on what can be done to prevent sexual exploitation in individuals with developmental disabilities.
No-Go- Tell! by James Stanfield
A program designed for children with special needs ages three to seven by experts who work with children with disabilities. The curriculum package includes pictures, anatomically correct dolls and lesson plans.
Safe Life Project Curriculum by Safe Life Coalition
This comprehensive curriculum includes Beginning (K-3), Intermediate (4-8), and Advanced level (7-12) content specifically designed for individuals with developmental disabilities. Content is different based on grade level. Overall themes include learning about bodies, boundaries, feelings, relationships, identifying abuse and reporting. Overall emphasizes self determination, abuse awareness, and personal safety skills.
The Ethics of Touch: Establishing and Maintaining Appropriate Boundaries in Service to People with Developmental Disabilities by David Hingsburger and Mary Harber
Excellent staff training videos that address issues of privacy, touch, affection and boundaries when providing direct care for individuals with cognitive disabilities.
Anatomically correct dolls for teaching about the body.
Do you know other people or organizations that should be included as a resource?
Contact our Communications Associate, Eric Ascher, at EricA@RespectAbility.org.
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