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The Birds and the Bees for Children with Special Needs

Alethea Mshar
Special needs mom and Blogger
12/28/17  8:55 AM PST
the birds and the bees

Our family is in the throes of the teens and tweens with children at home aged 18, 15 and almost 12. We’re neck deep in all of the normal challenges of those ages, with a fun little twist: two of the three have cognitive impairments. While the reading, writing, social and emotional development of my two boys with Down syndrome are not at typical age level, their biology marches on and physical development is exactly on time. This gives us specific special needs to address on the birds and the bees, but if we were just starting to address them now, we’d be far too late to the game. We started thinking of and acting on these specific needs in early childhood.

We started with consent.

My boys are touchy-feely huggers. It’s sweet and cute, and potentially inappropriate. When they were adorable toddlers, their hugs were almost universally welcomed. But as teenagers with deep voices and facial hair, they’re much less so, and they shouldn’t be. Long before the voices started cracking, we developed rules about touching. A touch on the arm is okay, fist bumps and handshakes are great, but a hug, kiss or touch anywhere other than the arm must be mutual, and it’s best to ask first. We have practiced these rules, giving private reminders, and even using social stories to help them understand how to follow them. We teach them in no uncertain terms that no means no; both when they say it and when someone else says it to them.

We use technical names for body parts.

We want the words that can seem taboo to be common and comfortable to them, so we call a penis a penis, breasts are breasts, and so on. It is important to avoid confusion that might make it even more difficult for them to understand what someone says to them or for them to tell someone about any part of their anatomy.

We teach “good touch, bad touch”.

People with intellectual disabilities are terribly vulnerable to sexual assault. In order to be proactive about the potential for abuse, we use a swimsuit and social stories to help them understand where and how they may be touched, who can touch them, and what to do if a person tries to touch them in a bad way.

We make use of community resources.

The school social workers have been great resources for us, providing social stories as well as guidance for developmentally appropriate language. We have also found it highly beneficial for people from different areas in our children’s lives to give them the same messages to reinforce the importance of it. Sometimes teachers, social workers and doctor’s offices offer the help, but if not, they can give you direction if you ask.

Reproductive health is a crucial part of development for everyone. In my experience, it’s often ignored for people with cognitive impairments, perhaps because people think of them as less likely to engage in sexual activity. But the lessons are of critical importance for the physical, mental and emotional well-being of both the individual and their community.

Resources on the Birds and the Bees for Children with Special Needs:

Wyoming Institute for Disabilities: Sexual and Reproductive Health

  • Multiple resources for parents and guardians on sexuality, reproductive health, healthy relationships, sexual orientation, talking to children and teens with disabilities about sex, and more.

More Articles on Raising Children with Special Needs:


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