Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Talking to Your Teen about Sex, Marriage, Pregnancy, and Parenting

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Talking to Your Teen about Sex, Marriage, Pregnancy, and Parenting

Article excerpt

Discussions about the "facts of life" can be difficult for any parent, but when issues of developmental disabilities, chromosomal anomalies, or physical disabilities are involved, the questions that children and teens ask are more challenging. "How can I have sex?" "Can I have children?" "Will my child have a disability?" "How will my children deal with teasing from other children about my disability?" "Will my family and friends be supportive of my choice to have children?" These issues are important for teens and young adults with special needs.

Children begin asking questions about sex very early, and most questions pop up at inopportune times for parents. As a parent, you need to be open and honest. Teach your child that it is okay to talk about sex, and continue to keep the dialogue flowing. You want to be your child's moral influence and source for accurate information. As always, you need to encourage adaptation and independent living.

Sex and the teen with developmental disabilities

Talking about sexual issues with teens who have developmental disabilities is especially difficult. Parents need to understand and accept that teens with developmental disabilities have sexual feelings and concerns, and they can enjoy intimate, loving relationships. Pictures can help you teach appropriate touches such as hugs and holding hands. Pictures can also identify the appropriate people with whom they may share these touches. Frequent reminders about good touches and bad touches will help your teen develop the appropriate social sexual behaviors. This approach will go a long way toward encouraging independence and discouraging abuse.

Teens with mild developmental delays often dream and talk about having babies, as do most teens. As young adults, even with a developmental disability, they have the right to make decisions about contraception, sterilization, marriage, and having babies. As teens, they need to be involved in these decisions in preparation for adulthood. Sons and daughters need your guidance with choices about sexual activity and contraception. The teen years are the best time to discuss with them the joys, frustrations, and responsibilities of childbearing.

This is ideally an opportunity to understand your teenage daughter's desires and expectations, and to dissuade her from pregnancy if she will be unable to care for a child. Many parents help their teen with mild developmental delays recognize her own limitations in caring for herself. Others let their daughter know that seizures during pregnancy may be bad for the baby. Parents may take another avenue by teaching their teen to answer social pressure and avoid pregnancy by saying, "My parents will be mad." All of these approaches require recurrent discussions in which parents actively listen to their teen's dreams and desires.

Most adults with developmental delays give birth to developmentally normal children unless a chromosomal abnormality is present. Be careful in discussing this issue with your teen who has special needs. Telling your son or daughter that having a child with a developmental disability is not desirable negates the importance and value of their lives. If your son or daughter wants to have children, discuss these issues with his or her physician first, then approach them with care.

Sex and the teen with physical disabilities

For many years, people with physical disabilities were considered "non-sexual." They were not expected to marry, have sex, or bear children. …

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