Sex education resources

Jane Fraser, a social worker and experienced sex education trainer with specialist knowledge in learning disability, from Worcester, UK, discusses the history of sex education and the availability of suitable resources for disabled young people. She then reviews the Young disabled people can — poster and booklet set from Brook.

“My parents were more worried about getting me walking than telling me about relationships.”

This statement from a young woman with cerebral palsy tells us a lot about what is uppermost in the minds of many parents of disabled children. Up until about 20 years ago, it would have been almost unheard of for her to have had any sex education in school either.

The late Dr Ann Craft fought for the recognition of the sexuality of disabled people and developed a series of slides to help teach about health, sex and relationships. With her encouragement, gradually more resources were published and this made it easier for teachers and parents to open up the subject.

Brook published the first social and sex education programme Not a child anymore in 1987. This was followed soon after by Chance to choose and Living your life and a set of pictures to support these two resources. These had been developed to help learning disabled young people to understand their bodies, their feelings and learn skills to help them build positive relationships. However, apart from an excellent video and teaching pack The lyric and Sex and spina bifida there was little on sex education for physically disabled young people.

Not a child anymore is no longer available but the 3D anatomically correct male and female cloth models that were part of the pack have been improved by Bodysense and are available from them with helpful notes of guidance. Although they were developed to help explain the adult human body and sexual relationships, they are also used to teach social skills through drama and role play. When someone has limited speech, they make it possible for the user to say to them &lquo;show me&rquo; and for things to be demonstrated that are hard to explain in words. Chance to choose and Living your life have also been updated.

By the end of the century, there were many more excellent resources available to cover most aspects of sex and relationship education. Parents now have a right to see the sex education policy and programme of the school their child attends and to look at the resources used. Schools are likely to welcome any interest of a parent who wants to support what is taught there by talking about the subject at home. This is where some of the new resources can help. fpa (Family Planning Association) has published some excellent booklets that can be used at home or at school with learning disabled young people. Me-and-Us has just published a very practical teaching pack Periods — a practical guide and, for girls themselves, I change my pad. They are just what many parents and teachers have been asking for.

Finally, the most promising sign that the needs of young disabled people are being recognised by organisations outside the sex education field, is that The Miscarriage Association has produced an A4 illustrated booklet for women with limited reading skills who have experienced a miscarriage, We are sorry that you have had a miscarriage.

References

  1. Fraser J. 1987. Not a child anymore. Birmingham: Brook Publications.
  2. Dixon H. 1992. Chance to choose. Sedburgh: Me-and-Us.
  3. Craft A. 2003. Living your Life. London: Brook Publications.
  4. Dixon H and Craft A. 1992. Picture yourself. Sedburgh: Me-and-Us.
  5. Scott L. 1998. The lyric: sex education for young people with physical disabilities. London: SPOD.
  6. Stewart B. 1978. Sex and spina bifida: an outline of sex and sexual relationships for young people with spina bifida and for their parents. Peterborough: Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus.
  7. Kerr-Edwards L and S Lorna. 1999. Talking together: about growing up: a workbook for parents of children with learning disabilities; 2003. Talking together: about sex and relationships: a practical resource for schools and parents working with young people with learning disabilities; 2005. Talking together … about contraception: helping young people with learning disabilities understand and make choices about contraception. London: fpa.
  8. Rees M. Carter C and Myers L. 2008. Periods — a practical guide. Sedburgh: Me-and-Us.
  9. Rees M. Carter C and Myers L. 2008. I change my pad. Sedburgh: Me-and-Us.
  10. Fraser J. 2008. We are sorry that you have had a miscarriage. Wakefield: Miscarriage Association.

Resource review: Young disabled people can...

The resource has 6 A2 colour posters — each on a different theme about relationships, sex and young disabled people — plus ten copies of a 16-page A4 colour booklet covering the same themes as the posters with additional information. Available from www.brook.org.uk. Price: £25

The development of this excellent and life-affirming resource provides us with an example of the difficulties faced by anyone attempting to enable young disabled people to develop relationships that bring them acceptance, love and pleasure.

Since their publication in 2004, lack of publicity has meant that these posters were rarely seen where they needed to be seen. Now they are more easily found through Brook Publications. This is where they should be — among other sex and relationship resources for young people — disabled or non-disabled.

More and more disabled students are receiving sex and relationship education alongside their non-disabled friends at school, thanks to current policy of inclusion in mainstream education. However, these schools need to affirm fully the needs and relationships of disabled students in order that everyone reaches their full potential — both socially and academically.

Disabled people who experience discrimination and stigma do not flourish as they should. Those who do not value all that a disabled person has to offer may fail to develop a fully rounded personality. This is why this resource should be found in every school.

What is so exciting about Young disabled people can … is that there are six posters showing young disabled people in a range of relationships. Some are sexual relationships (between people of the opposite sex and same sex) but some are not — and some are parents, too. This reflects the real life experience of all young adults. The captions with these colour photographs encourage young people to be positive about themselves and their relationships. They say that it's OK to enjoy relationships and to say &lsquoyes’ or ‘no’ to sex. “Be proud of who you are. It's OK to be different!” is something that needs to be repeated to those who are so often made to feel that being ‘different’ is a problem.

One of my favourite photographs is of a young disabled mother reading to her child and the caption says “Some disabled people become parents and some don't. Decide what's best for you!”

There's lots of practical advice and information about contraception, infection protection and getting help with relationships. This can be a great help to parents and carers who need to know how to support young people in a clear and appropriate way. There are questions that are often asked — and helpful answers. There is a list of websites and helplines to contact helpful organisations. At the end is a quiz with some statements about relationships, sex and disabled people — the answers destroy many myths and old wives' tales about disabled people.

First published DPPI Journal, Issue 63: Autumn 2008

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