Updated, October 2018
In the natural course of life, we humans can be expected to grow and change. We develop and mature over time–our brains, our bodies, the sense of who we are and who we want to be. Development is a beautiful thing, really, exciting and creative, and it makes parents, friends, and teachers look on in awe.
This resource page addresses one aspect of development that’s important not to ignore with children with or without disabilities—the development of sexuality. There’s so much to know and consider on this subject–what sexuality is, its meaning in adolescent and adult life, and the responsibilities that go along with exploring and experiencing one’s own sexuality. Use the jump links below to learn more about this fascinating, challenging subject.
- Human sexuality in general
- How disabilities can affect sexuality
- The special role of the parent
- The content to be taught
- Materials developed with specific disabilities in mind
- Commercial products
The Basics of Human Sexuality
Can’t start without the basic facts. What does science, study, and experience tell us about human sexuality?
Sexual development across time.
Here, you’ll find the basic biological facts about the human body and its development of sexuality from early childhood onward. From KidsHealth.
An overview of healthy childhood sexual development.
A 6-pager from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Sexual development from 0–18 years old.
Let’s see what goes on, little by little, and when.
Human sexuality: What children need to know and when.
Knowing what information is age-appropriate for children is important when you’re talking to them about sex.
What children need to know and when they need to know it.
This resources is from the Sexuality Resource Center for Parents. It’s easy to read, since it’s organized as questions that are answered via a succinct list of bullet points.
What is sexuality?
From Canada’s Options for Sexual Health, this short article is also easy to read and moves through bullet points as answers to posed questions.
Sexuality and Disability
How does disability affect sexuality? The articles below highlight many key issues, including some that may not have crossed your mind. Also see the section further below on materials developed for specific disabilities.
Sexuality and young people with disabilities or chronic illness.
Sex education and students with disabilities.
Healthy relationships, sexuality and disability.
Disability and sexuality.
In my own voice: Sexual self-advocacy.
The Special Role of the Parent
Parents or guardians are the first and primary sexual health educators of children. What parents say and do can have a powerful influence on the development of healthy sexuality in children. Yet, how many of us squirm a bit, to take on talking about the birds and the bees with our kids? These materials might help us take on the task.
What parents need to know about puberty and sexuality | Video in English and Spanish.
This 38-minute video from the Utah Parent Center addresses one of the more sensitive issues in the journey to adulthood. It’s also available in Spanish (55 minutes).
Why offer sex ed?
What parents need to know about sexuality and sexuality education, myths and facts, what does your family believe?
Your role as a parent.
How to talk with your children about sex.
Messages we can all agree on.
Even if, as a parent, you don’t agree with everything suggested on the Sexuality Resource Center for Parents website, there is still a lot of room for common ground. See if you don’t agree that all children should be getting these messages.
The Content to Be Taught
A great deal has been invested in developing curricula and teaching tools that address the many facets of human relationships, from developing social skills and friendships to assuming responsibility for one’s own body, including sexuality. Here, we list resources that are indispensable to those providing sexuality education to young people.
Guidelines for comprehensive sexuality education: K-12.
These guidelines, developed by a national task force of experts in the fields of adolescent development, health care, and education, provide a framework of the key concepts topics, and messages that all sexuality education programs would ideally include.
National Sexuality Education Standards.
The goal of the National Sexuality Education Standards: Core Content and Skills, K–12 is to provide clear, consistent, and straightforward guidance on the essential minimum, core content for sexuality education that is developmentally and age-appropriate for students in grades K–12.
Resources for sex educators: K-12 curriculum.
Also available in Spanish.
Rights, Respect, Responsibility is a free sexuality education curriculum that K-12 educators can use. There are suggestions for “before you teach”, lesson plans, family homework activities, and materials for educators at every grade level. From Advocates for Youth.
Digital tools and videos for enhancing classroom instruction.
Planned Parenthood offers several video series and lesson plans to enhance sexuality education on topics such as STDs and the importance of consent. There are also multiple digital tools, apps, and quizzes that teens can use to explore aspects of love and relationships, how to handle risky situations, and goal setting for the future.
FLASH curriculum for special education.
FLASH is a widely used sexual health education curriculum developed by Public Health Seattle & King County and designed to prevent teen pregnancy, STDs, and sexual violence. FLASH is available for elementary, middle, high school and special education self-contained classes (ages 11-21).
Materials on Specific Disabilities
Living with a disability, chronic illness, or chronic pain doesn’t make a person fundamentally sexually different from anyone. But it can mean that those with disabilities have less access to sex information in general or to resources specific to their disability. Parents and teachers will find the materials below useful in understanding and addressing how a specific disability may affect sexuality and sexuality education.
Sex, Aspergers, and autism.
An extensive list of books, articles, and videos for parents, singles, and couples. From Psychology Today.
Sexuality and relationships: Teenagers with autism spectrum disorder.
Parents can help their child with ASD understand his or her feelings and behave appropriately by giving clear explanations of sex, sexuality and relationships.
How do I teach sexuality to a person with ASD?
This article explores how parents, teachers, and others can deal with the normal, growing hormonal feelings of children on the spectrum and establish behavioral ground-rules.
Cerebral Palsy: Love without barriers.
Why I’m talking about sex and intimacy as a person with cerebral palsy.
Sexuality education for the student with deafblindness | Video.
The topic of this video is Issues in Sexuality and Deafblindness: Modesty, Appropriate Touch, and Menstruation.
Intellectual disability and sexuality.
Talking to children with intellectual disabilities about sex.
Sexuality across the lifespan: Sexuality education for children and adolescents with developmental disabilities.
Also available in Spanish.
Subtitled “An instructional guide for parents/caregivers of individuals with developmental disabilities.”
Sexual education resources for children, teens, and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Here’s a long list of different resources to explore, put together by Respect Ability.
For some with intellectual disabilities, ending abuse starts with sex ed.
People with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at a rate more than 7 times that for people without disabilities. This 2018 article on the subject and the value of sex education comes from NPR.
Sex education for physically, emotionally, and mentally challenged youth.
A 6-pager from Advocates for Youth.
Sex and specific physical disabilities.
How specific physical disabilities can affect a person’s sexuality. Disabilities briefly discussed include: spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, back pain, spina bifida, and neuromuscular disorders.
Spina bifida | Health care for women.
Spina bifida | Men’s health.
Sexuality and sexual function following spinal cord injury| Videos.
11-part video series from the University of Alabama at Birmingham Spinal Cord Injury Model System.
Sexual function for women after spinal cord injury.
Also available in Spanish. From Craig Hospital.
Sexual function for men after spinal cord injury.
Also available in Spanish. From Craig Hospital.
Brain injury and sexual issues.
Maturing sexually as an adolescent with a brain injury | 4-minute video.
Dr. Mariann Young talks about the importance of educating adolescents with TBI about sex when they are ready to hear it and understand that issues of sexuality and intimacy are not black and white. Additional videos about TBI and teens are also available.
There are also numerous commercial products available to address the sexuality education needs of children and youth with disabilities. We’ve listed several below, along with associated costs as of October 2018.
The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability for All of Us Who Live With Disabilities, Chronic Pain, and Illness | Under $20.
James Stanfield Company.
This commercial publisher offers an extensive line of multimedia products addressing sex ed and relationship issues for students with intellectual and other disabilities, including these separate curricula: Circles, Life Horizons, Date Smart,and LifeFacts. Cost | Prices vary depending on the curriculum and the components of the curriculum (which can be purchased separately), but range from as low as $130 per component to $2000 for an entire curriculum.
Developmental Disabilities and Sexuality Curriculum.
Meant to be used with teens and adults with DD, this curriculum includes 22 lesson plans with scripts, handouts in English and Spanish, teaching tools, and instructor’s manual. | Cost: $300.
The Facts of Life…and More | Sexuality and Intimacy for People with Intellectual Disabilities | Cost: $33
Parents will find this book helpful when talking about sexuality with their adolescent or adult children with intellectual disabilities.
Boyfriends & Girlfriends: A Guide to Dating for People with Disabilities | Cost: Under $20
Teaching Children with Down Syndrome about Their Bodies, Boundaries, and Sexuality | Cost: $18
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**Highly Rated Resource! This resource was reviewed by 3-member panels of Parent Center staff working independently from one another to rate the quality, relevance, and usefulness of CPIR resources. This resource was found to be of “High Quality, High Relevance, High Usefulness” to Parent Centers.