Developmental Disabilities And Sexuality

A long standing and often controversial issue is that of the sexual education of individuals with developmental disabilities. SIECUS, Sexuality Information and Education Council for the United States, has formally approved the following policy statement, which is testament to how far research and therapy have come regarding individuals with developmental disabilities;

"Persons with physical, cognitive, or emotional disabilities have a right to sexuality education, sexual health care, and opportunities for socializing and for sexual expression. Family, health care workers, and other caregivers should receive training in understanding and supporting sexual development and behavior, comprehensive sexuality education, and related health care for individuals with disabilities. The policies and procedures of social agencies and health care delivery systems should ensure that services and benefits are provided to all persons without discrimination because of disability."

Individuals with disabilities and their caregivers should have information and education about how to minimize the risk of sexual abuse and exploitation."

Many people still are not aware of the fact that individuals with developmental disabilities still have sexual needs. Most parents fear how their child will cope with the responsibility of a relationship, with possible parenthood, with breakup, or even the loss of a loved one. Also, as the statement above highlights too, parents and caregivers often fear that a developmentally disable person will suffer from sexual abuse if they are allowed to be intimate with other. Another fear is that a developmentally disable individual may be become violent or abusive to their partners, while this is not an impossibility, but the likelihood of this happening is not affected by the developmental disability. Many normal people have been perpetrators of sexually abusive acts, so the linkage between developmental disability and violence in any form does not exist.

There are many things that parents and caregivers can do to help educate their developmentally disabled child/charge. The best way is for caregivers to work in collaboration with parents and discuss areas such as physical, cognitive, and psychosexual development. Instead of waiting till the child gets older or is past teens, it would be better to discuss these particulars in a gradual manner, making it part of the routine treatment. Developmentally disable individuals also need to be given specific instructions on how to maintain their personal hygiene, how to protect themselves from sexual assault and what rights they possess as individuals. Since human beings tend to form bonds as a result of intimate relationships, caregivers and parents need to make sure their developmentally challenged child is not in a danger to be exploited, while at the same time making sure he or she expects to have a fulfilling and satisfying personal life when reaching adulthood.

There are now mounds of research, with contributions from individuals who went through life with developmental disabilities themselves, that supports the importance of early, timely and thorough education in sexuality for those who are developmentally challenged. The process is not the same as sitting down and having a talk with your normal teen or pre-teen, so as a parent, you should make the effort to collaborate with a professional therapist in the matter and be clear on what issues to discuss and how to go about them.