My students, who have mild disabilities, are no different. One young man has a crush on one of the young ladies in our school. They started “dating.” Then one day, he came to school crying and told me that his parents did not feel he was ready to date. I thought to myself, maybe his parents are not ready for their child to date.
But I noticed that within a couple of days, their “dating” behavior returned. Our administrator has tried to ban any PDA (public displays of affection)—notice the verb “tried.” Ready or not, parents and teachers, these young adults are entering the dating phase.
Here is what I have observed from my own daughter with special needs, as well as my students. They want to be like their peers; they want to be able to say they have a boyfriend or girlfriend. And it is important to find out what exactly that means to them.
For many of our students, “dating” simply means that you tell others you are “boyfriend and girlfriend.” The dating couples sit with each other at lunch. They hug each other. They call and text-message each other after school and on weekends. Many of them cannot drive, so they do not see each other outside of school. If they do see each other during nonschool hours, parents are there to chaperone. We hold several school dances and often the “couples” will meet at the dance.
A few of our students, however, are sexually active, as evidenced by the occasional pregnancy or a baby at home. Some of our students have been taken advantage of sexually. This is such a scary area for me as a parent and a teacher. I have read that children with disabilities are sexually abused 2.2 times more often than their peers. Young women with special needs have a 65 to 80% chance of being sexually abused in their lifetime.
I think that good sex education for students with disabilities should begin at home. For example, I have tried to talk openly with my daughter about the subject. I try to give her good information — at a level she can handle, of course — but definitely solid information nonetheless. I think it is important for my daughter to be able to ask questions about sex and romantic relationships. And I have tried to teach her to speak up if she feels uncomfortable with someone’s actions toward her.
As educators, we have to teach what dating behavior is appropriate in public. I think we often have to fill in the sex education gap that may exist in our students’ home life. This is a tough area that I have just begun to explore.
I want to continue to educate myself in this area—maybe the CEC 2010 Convention & Expo will have an appropriate session? Maybe some of you have resources you could recommend? I want my daughter and our students to stay safe and enjoy appropriate relationships!