Have you talked with your child about puberty or sexual behaviors?

Have you talked with your child about puberty or sexual behaviors? If you answered no, you are not alone! Many parents of teens with disabilities find it difficult to talk with their child about these sensitive topics. What can parents do proactively to help their children learn about puberty and their sexual feelings?

During a recent webinar, Sorah Stein a BCBA, Sexual Educator, and parent of a teen with a disability discussed the need for early education. She noted that many parents report feeling uncomfortable talking about puberty. They do not know what to discuss, or find it difficult to decide when it is appropriate to talk with their son or daughter. Sorah Stein recommended that parents start slowly introducing these topics to their child in the years leading up to puberty. Proactively talking with them will help prepare your child for the physical and physiological changes they will experience. During these conversations, it is important to normalize these changes since all teenagers go through this process. Sorah also recommend that parents have these discussions using the child’s typical mode of communication: PECS, sign language, verbal communication, etc.

Although these topics are sensitive and not easy to talk about, they are extremely important for you to address. If you don’t, they may learn about it from other sources such as the internet, peers at school, movies or video games. These sources may provide your child with too much information or misinformation that may leave your child feeling confused, scared, or worried about what will happen to them during puberty. Sorah also noted that many children with disabilities that do not learn about puberty and sexuality can often become the victims of sexual abuse later in life. She noted that it can be helpful to consult a therapist or a sexual educator. Emerge has a team of highly qualified professionals that can walk you through this process. Please contact us at (303) 322-9000 if you have any questions.

There are also things you can do at home. Here are a few helpful resources Sorah recommended for parents and teenagers:

Teaching Children with Down Syndrome about their Bodies, Boundaries and Sexuality by Terri Couwenhoven: Although the book title suggests that it is only suitable for children with Down Syndrome, it can in fact be helpful for all children. The materials can be adapted to fit the cognitive level of your child. It is an easy to read, non-clinical book, designed to give parents the confidence they need to talk with their child about sex and sexuality.

The Girls Guide to Growing Up by Terri Couwenhoven: This book is an easy to read guide for girls with intellectual disabilities. It provides information about the physical and emotional changes they will experience during puberty. It also provides age appropriate facts, photos, and diagrams about a variety of topics.

The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Young Girls: Revised Edition by Valorie Schaefer: This book is part of the American Girl Collection. It is not written for girls with intellectual disabilities but may still be appropriate for your child. It provides facts, photos, and how-to’s about a girls’ changing body.

The Boys Guide to Growing Up by Terri Couwenhoven: This book is an easy to read guide for boys with intellectual disabilities. Like Terri’s guide for girls, it provides information about the physical and emotional changes they will encounter during puberty.

http://www.avert.org AVERT is an international HIV and AIDS charity based in the UK working to mitigate the impact of HIV and AIDS worldwide through education, treatment and care. A section of the website is specifically for teens, it discusses puberty and sexual behavior. The website has mature content and may not be appropriate for all teens with intellectual disabilities. It is recommended that parents review the material and then decide if their teen should be allowed to see it. This site contains realistic diagrams of human anatomy, and although parents may find the content helpful for gathering facts, parents should be advised that the material is explicit.

Communicating about Sexuality is a PECS program created by Mayer-Johnson and the Speak Up Now Project in order to give individuals using an augmentative or alternative communication a way to safeguard themselves against abuse. It contains over 400 pictures and 48 different boards focusing on the expression of sexuality. This program can be found at here.