Guidelines for parents of children with disabilities
For more than a few parents, the prospect of teaching a child with a disability about sexuality is disturbing. This anxiety is understandable, but I believe it is unwarranted. I say that out of firsthand experience. Before going further, I want it to be clear that I am not a trained, experienced sex counselor. My only qualification is that I, myself, have a disability.
My father and mother, particularly my mother, educated me in everything from bees and birds to human intercourse and reproduction without, as far as I observed, a single minute of feeling uncomfortable.
Their aplomb was not the result of expertise - they had no formal training for teaching sex education. (In fact, neither of them was a college graduate, although both had gone to college.) What was it, then, that enabled them to swing the door to sexuality wide open for me without embarrassment or fear? I have come to the conclusion that they were successful in this largely because they were not prone to believe in old wives' tales concerning disability; they were fully informed about my impairment, and they were upbeat about life in general.
MY FIRST LOVE
I should probably list one additional item: mother's uncanny insight into my internal life, including my first love affair.
In the second grade I lost my heart to a seven-year-old demoiselle named Melissa. We became after-school as well as during-school pals. With blue eyes and golden hair, Melissa seemed more beautiful to me than Cupids on Valentine's Day and certainly holier than angels.
Marvelously ethereal, Melissa, nevertheless, produced in me an intense curiosity about girls' bodies. I invented - or perhaps all children have them ready-to-go a as birthright - one or two games whereby I got the opportunity to increase my knowledge of female anatomy, Melissa's in particular. Mother picked up the vibrations of this, either by clairvoyance or by some other mysterious means.
During a conversation with me that appeared to begin quite casually, she remarked that Melissa and I were very pleasant and well-behaved children. Then, as if turning to a different subject, she asked whether I understood where babies come from. I admitted my ignorance. Mother, thereupon, gave me an explanation that would have won the total approval of both Good Housekeeping and Dr. Benjamin Spock.
Also, she explained that my cerebral palsy was the result of my struggling from her womb feet-first. She recounted the circumstances of that misfortune: the sultry July night, the long labor, the doctor's frenzied efforts to keep both of us alive.
She concluded by summing up the predictions of doctors concerning the extent to which my disability would constrict my life as a teenager and adult - my sexual life, as well as education, job and so on.
This conversation communicated several highly significant facts, but, at the same time, went beyond facts. It set forth a prime concept: Sex is a completely natural component of human life. At the same time, mother set the stage for my developing a positive attitude regarding my own personal sexuality. She freed me up to look forward to love, courtship, erotic expression. In effect, she said to me: "Your disability may prompt you to experiment with some slightly unorthodox sex techniques; you'll be able to work out these particulars. Rest assured that sex is for you."
SUGGESTIONS TO PARENTS
Parental guidance in the matter of sexuality has to be - like parental guidance in most matters - highly personal and individualized. It must be consistent not only with the child's unique personality but with that of the parents' as well. Hence, I will not propound anything except some general principles, primarily based on my common sense and personal experiences.
My first suggestion is: Before talking with your child …