Sexuality Education for Persons with Developmental Disabilities: A Cooperative Approach

Article excerpt

One of the basic needs of life for all people, including those who are disabled, is understanding one's own sexuality. Sexuality education can help individuals with developmental disabilities find sexual satisfaction, foster responsibility, maturity, and positive actions toward various rehabilitation goals (McNab, 1978). While the focus of this article is on individuals with mild and moderate mental retardation, topics and techniques described are applicable to students with other developmental disabilities. The term developmental disability, as defined by the amended Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 1987, means a severe chronic disability of a person attributable to a mental or physical impairment which reflects the person's need for a combination and sequence of special, interdisciplinary, or generic care, treatment, or other services which are of lifelong or extended duration and are individually planned and coordinated.

Traditionally, teaching of sexuality to individuals with developmental disabilities has met objections resulting from society's negative attitude toward the disabled and parental apprehensions regarding decision-making skills of their children in relation to acceptable and unacceptable sexual behaviors. Indeed, some parents of children with disabilities view their children's sexual interests and/or needs as another crisis of parenting rather than a stage of development.

With increasing emphasis on independent living, individuals with developmental disabilities have greater needs for sexuality education. Health and physical educators along with special educators should be collectively involved in developing and implementing appropriate sexuality education programs which help persons with developmental disabilities achieve a more positive self-concept and greater independent living status. This instruction should take place in health, physical education, and special education classrooms on a concurrent basis.

To accomplish these goals, this article focuses on the following areas:

* Why sexuality education for persons with development disabilities?

* Sexuality issues, content, and behavior considerations;

* Collaboratovie role of health, physical, and special educators; and,

* Available resources.

Why Sexuality Education for

Persons with Developmental


Understanding one's own sexuality is a basic need for positive physical and metal health. Sexuality is ability to feel and give warmth and love, development of a positive self-concept, and being able to make responsible decisions regarding physical, mental, emotional, and social aspects of one's sexual health (McNab, 1981). Sexuality is one of the most wonderful aspects of life that everyone has the right to experience and enjoy. Dickman (1985) stated, "A growing number of mentally and physically disabled people are proving that they are neither sexless, nor perverted, nor helpless dreamers." Like everyone else, people with developmental disabilities want to experience and enjoy positive aspects of their sexuality.

Two contradictory assumptions are often put forth regarding sexuality and people who are developmentally disabled:

* Persons with developmental disabilities are not interested in sex; and,

* They are too interested in sex in perverse, abnormal ways (Dickman, 1985).

The first assumption identifies persons with developmental disabilities as asexual and unable to have sexual feelings and relationships. This unfounded assumption often inhibits support for and interest in developing sexuality education programs for person with developmental disabilities.

In the second assumption, a person who is a developmentally disabled individual is viewed as someone who has abnormal interest in sex that may manifest itself in inappropriate public behavior or other types of sexual misconduct. …