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Preparing your child for adulthood

Education about sexuality and the social skills to navigate it are critical to the growth, development and success of young people, including those with diverse abilities. Sexuality begins before we’re born and the way we express it changes at every age. As young adults with special needs transition from school to independent lives, sexual awareness and behavior becomes increasingly important as they explore their dreams and hopes for the future.

Truth is, as parents and family members, we are the first and most important sexuality educators of children. If we can get comfortable talking about reproductive body parts, functions, feelings and behaviors, we can help our children develop healthy sexuality. For many of us, that’s easier said than done. Especially for those of us who didn’t grow up talking openly about sexuality.

Recently, Central Oregon Disability Support Network hosted workshops for parents and educators in Bend to support healthy relationships and sexuality. The workshops were presented by Leslie Walker-Hirsch, IMEd, FAAIDD, an internationally recognized author, consultant and instructor in the Graduate School of Educational Specialties at the University of New Mexico. Our HDESD Transition Network team asked Leslie to share a few of the most important things every parent of a child with a developmental disability should know about sexuality:

7 things every parent of a child with a developmental disability should know about sexuality

  1. EVERYONE has sexuality. All of us — including people with diverse abilities — have sexuality, whether or not we are or intend to be sexually active.
  2. Family and friends have a huge influence on sexual awareness. What parents say and do can have a powerful influence on the development of healthy sexuality in children. A strong social support system of friends (with and without disabilities), and family acts as a buffer to sadness, loneliness, depression, boredom and vulnerability.
  3. Sexuality education makes adult life better. The goal of sexuality education is to create adults who are safe, happy, responsible and satisfied with their lives.
  4. Sexual awareness can help prevent exploitation and abuse. Children and adults who are sexually smarter are LESS vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse.
  5. Kids learn and practice relationship skills early. Many of the skills of mutual adult relationships are learned and practiced among friends long before the onset of adulthood.
  6. Kids with special needs need extra support. General health education classes do not address some of the social aspects associated with adult social and sexual activity. Special Education strategies, such as repetition, rehearsal, scripting, use of icons, tokens and rewards, pictorial support and the safety of a small group of peers are needed to effectively prepare youngsters with special needs  for adulthood.
  7. There are 6 important components to sexuality education. Comprehensive sexuality education should include: Adult Self Care, Anatomy and Physiology, Empowerment, Relationship Skills, Social Skills and Social Opportunity.

To learn more, visit lesliewalker-hirsch.com.