Puberty and Sexuality in Special Education Classes

Puberty and Sexuality in Special Education Classes

October 2, 2021 30 min read

Today we’re going to tackle a tough topic on the podcast: Puberty and Sexuality in Special Education Classes. However, if you think that topic doesn’t apply to your grade levels or student population, think again. (I learned a lot I didn’t know in this episode!) My guest, Dr. Rachel Schwartz, helps us to understand that sex ed starts with how we build trust with even our youngest students. All humans are sexual beings, whether they have significant special needs or not.

Dr. Schwartz is a board-certified behavior analyst with the Watson Institute in Pittsburgh. She specializes in sexuality and improving the quality of life for individuals with special needs. She shared MANY resources and links for activities and curriculum (some free) to help special educators with puberty and sexuality in special education classes. (See the links section below).

In prepping for this episode, I asked special educators about situations they have encountered regarding sexuality in the classroom. Dr. Schwartz and I looked them over and sorted them into three groups:

  • How should special ed teachers respond to acts by students?
  • How should one get information to teaching staff in your class and school, which might include administration and parents?
  • What should actually be taught to children with significant needs?

Take a listen to the episode below, or wherever you get your podcasts. Please note that due to the nature of this episode, you might NOT want to listen with children. This topic is considered explicit, but the topics are covered with care and professionalism.

Some issues discussed include how sexuality education includes topics such as self-stimulation, public exposure, explicitly teaching what privacy is and what it is not, and so much more. This wasn’t mentioned during the interview, but please consider the following about privacy when doing distance learning: Remind parents that if they have previously taught that the child’s room is private for self-stimulation/masturbation, they will need to reteach that concept… since the bedroom is no longer private if the student is doing distance learning on Zoom, Google Meet, etc. So the student absolutely should not self-stimulate during online class meetings.

Important Note about my FACEBOOK account: I got hacked by scammers and no longer have control of my Facebook Group “Help for Special Educators,” Lisa Goodell Equip Page, or my personal page. Please leave the group, and unfollow/unfriend the page.

Show Notes for Episode #28

Guest: Rachel Schwartz, PhD, BCBA-D

Dr. Rachel Schwartz has worked internationally creating and supervising programs for individuals with developmental disabilities. With over 15 years of experience working with special education teachers, administrators, students, and families, Rachel is passionate about sharing her experience and empowering parents and professionals. Rachel’s work and research interests include enhancing behavior analytic programming and exploring issues related to sexual education and quality of life. Rachel has published original research on these topics in journals such as Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals and Remedial and Special Education as well as presented at national, state, and local conferences. Rachel currently serves as an education consultant and trainer with The Watson Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


Resources and Links

  • Elevatus Training: Staff trainings and Parent workshops
  • Related research article: A Review of Research in Sexual Education for Adults with Disabilities. (The link no longer works, but you can try searching for the title, “A Review of Research on Sexual Education for Adults With Intellectual Disabilities” and the abstract should still come up.)
  • To sign up for Lisa’s Email List to get free ideas and strategies, use Subscribe sign-up on the right sidebar of the page (or scroll down if using a mobile device).
  • Lisa’s TeacherPayTeacher Store
  • Check out other podcast episodes
  • Scroll down to the bottom of this page for a written transcript of this episode.
Puberty and Sexuality in Special Ed Classes


Teaching Children with Down Syndrome about Their Bodies, Boundaries, and Sexuality: A Guide for Parents and Professionals by Terri Couwenhoven (2007)

• Boyfriends and Girlfriends: A Guide to Dating for People with Disabilities by Terri Couwenhoven (2015) – Written at a third-grade reading level. Great to read together!

• Sexuality: Your Sons and Daughters with Intellectual Disabilities by Melberg Schwier and Dave Hingsburger (2000)

• Taking Care of Myself: A Hygiene, Puberty and Personal Curriculum for Young People with Autism by Mary Wrobel (2003)

• Sexuality and Relationship Education for Children and Adolescents with Autism-Spectrum Disorders: A Professional’s Guide to Understanding, Preventing Issues, Supporting Sexuality and Responding to Inappropriate Behaviors by Davida Hartmann (2014) 

Disclaimer: The views expressed, and resources/links provided on this podcast are that of each guest and do not always represent the views of this podcast or the host. In addition, each listener is encouraged to research all strategies, lessons, curriculum, etc. before using them with students to be sure they are in line with their beliefs, their school district policies, etc.

About the Host: Lisa Goodell

Woman holding a pretty cat

Lisa Goodell, M.A., launched the “Help for Special Educators” Podcast on April 1, 2019. She has taught for 26 years, including third grade, resource/inclusion (RSP), and mild/moderate self-contained (SDC). Currently, she is an itinerant orthopedic impairment (OI) specialist/teacher for students birth to 21 years old in all general ed and special ed settings.

Lisa has a master’s degree in special education and six special ed and general ed teaching credentials (she is now working on another one: Assistive Technology (AT) certificate). She has been honored as “Teacher of the Year” at both the elementary and secondary levels. She lives in rural Central California with her family and a bunch of cats. Connect with Lisa here.

Lisa is grateful for the thousands of listeners in over 65 countries around the world.

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Check out other podcast episodes


*Note: An artificial intelligence (AI) transcription service converted the audio file of this podcast episode into the written words below. The file is mostly accurate, however, be aware that spoken words and conversations are not the same as a conversation in a novel. This means that there will be some inaccuracies or accidental errors (i.e. missing punctuation and words, misspellings, etc.). Thank you for understanding.

Lisa (00:00):

Episode 28: Puberty and Sexuality in Special Education Classes

Puberty and Sexuality in Special Ed Classes

Due to the nature of today’s topic, this episode will be marked explicit although the topics will be addressed with professionalism and care. However, parents you are advised to listen without your children around. My guest today is Dr. Rachel Schwartz, who is a board-certified behavior analyst with the Watson Institute in Pittsburgh. She specializes in sexuality and improving the quality of life for individuals with special needs. Now in prepping for this interview, I asked special educators for situations they have encountered regarding sexuality in the classroom. Dr. Schwartz and I looked them over and sorted them into three groups. One, how should special ed teachers respond to acts by students? Two how should one get information to teaching staff in your class and school, which might include administration and parents. And three, what should actually be taught to children with significant needs in this area?

Intro (01:17):

[Intro] Do you ever find yourself barely able to hold your head above water? Waves of IEPs, data collection, assessments, parent conferences, not to mention lesson plans and seasonal activities are all crashing around you. You need help, but not just from anybody. Grab the lifeline that is the Help for Special Educators podcast. We will equip you with creative solutions and teacher-tested strategies so you can navigate the rewarding, but difficult job as a special ed teacher. This is Lisa Goodell, your host.

Lisa (01:58):

Today, we’re going to tackle a sensitive topic, puberty and sexuality in the special ed class. So welcome to the show Dr. Schwartz.

Laura (02:06):

Hi, it’s great to be here.

New Speaker (02:07):

Full disclosure here. I would not even think about attempting to cover this type of topic on the show because I do not have the expertise. So again, I just thank you for being here since I know you’re going to give us some excellent advice and resources.

Laura (02:22):

Thank you. I’m very happy to chat about it always.

Lisa (02:25):

Awesome. So before we get into the scenarios, what is sexuality education? And at what age should parents and teachers start teaching about sexuality?

Laura (02:36):

People often think about sexuality and education as just being about pleasure or the mechanics of sex and sex acts, or just about periods and wet dreams and all that great stuff. But really it’s so much more than that. It is about social skills, about personal self-care skills, about psychological skills, understanding how you feel, how others feel… self-regulation, self-monitoring, personal safety and self-determination skills. So I encourage listeners to check out SEISCUS, which is the Sexuality Information and Education Council for the United States for the full range of information and topics that are covered in comprehensive sexual education, but like other important life skills, sexuality education should start early. It should happen often, and it should be sequential. You don’t hand a kid, a book and say, Hey, let’s start reading together. Now let’s learn how to read you. Start by identifying letters, by building phonemic awareness, all of those foundational skills and sex ed is the same way.

Laura (03:36):

You don’t wait for puberty to tell a kid what is going on in their bodies and with their feelings. You start when a kid is young, three years old, they’re starting making sure that the kid understands parts of the body and their feelings. It’s a really natural age to do this cause you’re potty training or you’re getting them dressed. You can talk about body parts and feelings when they’re sharing, when they don’t get what they want. So you can start talking about that with a very, very young age, three, four years old. And then as they’re getting little bit older in schools, you can talk about boundaries, how you touch your family versus strangers. You talk about those social skills, all those big feelings that you were feeling as you’re getting bigger and you have more disappointment and more joy, communicating with others. And each of those skills, you just keep building every year sequentially until they get older. And then you can build into more complicated concepts, those dynamics of relationships and all those different parts that make living exciting and hard and beautiful, but it really needs to be a sequential and frequent topic.

Lisa (04:35):

Interesting. I bet that might surprise a lot of parents or teachers. Cause I think most people just would want to sweep it under the rug until the students are like in sixth grade or older. So I can’t wait to get into the scenarios.

Laura (04:50):

Let’s do it.

Lisa (04:51):

Okay. So scenario one is about a teacher whose parents of the kids in her class don’t want any sexuality or puberty issues addressed at all. For example, even using medical terms for body parts and the teacher said, “It’s like, they don’t want to think of their child as a sexual being.”

Laura (05:14):

Uh, this is just a really scary topic. I think for a lot of parents and educators, as well, as you said at the beginning, a lot of people just kind of don’t want to touch it. It’s something that we often want to sweep under the rug, but we can’t because it’s so important. Parents may feel, and all of them will feel nervous or scared to think of their child, getting older and becoming a sexual being. Some ways that an educator could approach parents is first to recognize it is scary. Be empathetic. Nobody likes to say, well, you should be saying this. Nobody likes shows. And so just to say, yeah, this is hard. And it is a lot to think about. I always tell parents, your child needs this information and they will find it. So as parents, they need to answer this question: Where do you want them to get the information?

Laura (05:59):

Do you want it from Netflix, pornography? I worked with adults who found obscure pornography and used that as the basis for the sexuality education. Is that where you want them to get education? Or do you want them to get questions from you in a way that’s honest, that’s safe and that’s loving. And that matches the values of your family, the culture of your family and that individual. I think all parents typically answer, “I want to be the one to give them the information.” I know many, many adults. Who’ve never received information, who used TV shows like Gossip Girl or Friends to try to figure out what are relationships. But TV shows should not be teachers. So that’s like number one to ask parents is where do you want this information to come from? And if they’re still on the fence, yeah, I kind of want to do this, but I’m not sure if my child really needs this, I always bring up then safety. Individuals with disabilities have the highest rate of sexual assaults in our country.

Laura (06:58):

And it’s really an epidemic… It’s terrifying. And this is regardless of need. So I just want to put that caveat in there. This isn’t saying that one population of neurodiverse individuals are more likely to be sexually assaulted. This is across needs. So you can have significant needs and be sexually assaulted in our country, and worldwide really. So students with disabilities need this information to understand about their bodies, about who can touch them, how they can communicate no, and that they can and should have control over in choices about their bodies. So safety is a huge topic.

Lisa (07:32):

Yeah, that’s good. And I think it’s important because parents would want their children to come straight to them if they did have a negative situation or a situation where they feel uncomfortable, whether that’s with someone at school or outside of school. As a parent, I would always want my child to come to me with a problem instead of them not being sure what they do, because I’ve never wanted to talk about it.

Laura (07:58):

Yep, you have to open up the door. You have to make it a no holds barred. There’s no shame in this. I want you to come to me because if somebody touches your child, worst case scenario, if someone touches your child and appropriately, they say, Hey, don’t tell anyone. And your child says, okay, you told me not to tell me anyone. I guess I don’t tell anybody you want your child to be armed with the information to say, oh, this doesn’t feel right. This is wrong. I go tell someone.

Laura (08:19):

I also encourage teachers to explain what we mean by sexuality education. Like I did in the beginning. Again, most parents might think about it as we’re just want to talk about mechanics of sex and pleasure. And that’s not all of sexuality education, not at all, though it is an important part. And I do want that to be included. You mentioned earlier about the body parts and that was part of the question. Kids need to learn about body parts for medical reasons. It’s something hurts. Can they say this is where it hurts for self care to be able to independently take care of themselves and take care of their body safety reasons. And also for just safety and being part of a community, know what parts of your body are private? What are public? And we’ll get into this I’m sure later, but all of these are huge pieces for individuals with disabilities to know and all kids to know.

Lisa (09:04):

Yeah, absolutely.

Laura (09:06):

Now what I do encourage teachers to do is if they can get this information together is to develop a resource list. There might be already county resource lists that they can grab of certified sexuality educators who teach classes, or pediatrician offices, often teach classes as well. Their school program might already be pretty comprehensive and then get some with their special educators. Don’t have to be the ones teaching all of this. They can say, Hey, if you want to be a part of this class, reach out to this person. Here’s resources for you. As a parent, elevate us, for example, has a parent workshop. There’s a lot of places that do parent workshops. So I would encourage parents to look into those and teachers to have those resources on hand.

Lisa (09:43):

Oh, that’s great. I also want to let our listeners know that any resources that we talk about I will have in the show notes on my webpage, So if it’s mentioned the links and full information will be there. Are you ready to go to scenario two? Let’s do it. Okay. Here we go. Scenario two is from a teacher who wants to know what to do when a student exposes themselves in class or on the playground. And would it be addressed differently if the student is in elementary school as opposed to high school or an adult?

Laura (10:20):

When you’re talking about exposure. So exposing oneself, that should be explicitly targeted specifically what you can and cannot do in a public setting and why it shouldn’t be punitive. I really don’t recommend making it a no. You just can’t do that. And having some sort of shame element as a part of it, because that can sometimes backlash into someone not being then willing to talk about personal questions or being able to approach whether it’s a teacher or a parent about their bodies. So try not to keep it a punitive or a shaming piece, but it does need to be addressed. And this means that you need to teach privacy and the rules of a space and why this occurs.

Laura (11:00):

So my warning story about this I’ll just share one of them…is that I worked with an individual. His name was Keith, but that’s not his real name, I’m just giving him a pseudonym, just so you know. And he was very independent. He would go to and from work by himself on the train or on the bus. And it turned out he would be exposing himself on the public transport. Often masturbating in the back. He had just graduated from high school. So young adult, then this had been a pattern in school. Somehow this was allowed to continue. Finally, he got warnings, the police came and spoke with him. One day, a mother and her daughter came, they sat next to him and he was masturbating, and at this point he was arrested. When you asked him what was going on, know what were you thinking about? How, how could you do this? He would say it was in private. I couldn’t see anyone. It was private because somewhere down the line, someone told him that privacy is, if you can’t see anybody. So if you’re in the middle of a playground and you put a blanket over your head, that’s private. And so it’s not private.

Laura (11:58):

Privacy is extremely complicated. It needs to be taught again one of those early and often skills. It needs to be taught early and often infrequently. And so the kid can develop generalization and can understand what’s private and what’s not private. How to tell if something is private, not just, I can’t see anyone. There are some nice resources (I know you mentioned that we’ll link those) like Terry Cohen Haven has some great exercises about privacy and lessons. So those are really good. And there’s some curriculum that I also mentioned, the resources that people can buy or look into in terms of some of their privacy lessons. So I also say in terms of not only teaching that or thinking about privacy in the classroom, collaborate with families about privacy in the home.

Laura (12:38):

Everyone has different elements of privacy in their home and how they think about it. Some people have the door open to the bathroom all the time. That’s fine. It’s just, if you’re working on privacy in school, and this is an issue for a child or a student, you want to talk to the parents and say, Hey, they’re pulling down their pants on the playground every day. Can we work on this? What are you guys doing at home? Can you help us reinforce privacy by making sure that they know that pants go down in the bathroom, in the bedroom, make that a united front.

Laura (13:05):

The other aspect of this is we really want to teach context. Context is just recognizing stimuli within an environment and the behaviors that are associated with that stimuli. So for example, we breakfast at the table. We don’t eat breakfast on the toilet, but you get a doctor’s exam in a doctor’s office, not in a car. How does someone learn that those events should happen in those places? All of these little environmental cues are taught. And so as a teacher, something that you can do is start pointing those out. Do you see there are people around you? Do you see that there are no windows or any closed doors in this space? That’s telling us it’s public. And that means that all of these things we have to follow and lastly have those rules in your classroom. So this should be at every level elementary, middle high school. I was consulting in a high school classroom and these high school students were allowed to go and masturbate in the public school bathroom. Don’t do that!

Laura (14:00):

Here are some rules that we can keep in this space. Keep the doors to the bathroom closed. If you are working with students with significant needs and have significant supports, consider having some privacy curtains around, even within the classroom for students that might be in a more vulnerable position so that you can start demonstrating privacy. If you’re toileting someone, turn away, have a privacy curtain so you can give them a minute by themselves before you have to do any sort of self care or wiping. And there’s a lot of little ways that we can start to reinforce privacy and that that’s going to help students understand some of these dynamics in these contexts. If this is habitual, this is happening every day, you’ve done all of these pieces. You’re working on all these elements. You also might want to check, is there a medical reason is something bothering that individual? If there is sensitivity, textural sensitivity, that’s happening, you know, there might be another piece that’s going on. And so I would also look into that. I can tell you for certain that they won’t learn that it is not okay to expose themselves. If all we do is say, no, you can’t do that. Keith you’re in trouble and then leave it at that. And we need to be building the skills around it.

Lisa (15:03):

That’s good. Okay. Now with the bathroom situation, that can be difficult because let’s say you have a self-contained class with students that have severe needs. And so they’re being diapered or having other medical procedures such as catheterization. And so they may be in a classroom with a bathroom, but while they are being attended to the door of the bathroom is usually left open. And that is because teachers and staff are told you should never be alone with a student.

Laura (15:38):

I know.

Lisa (15:39):

So that’s tricky.

Laura (15:39):

This comes up all the time, where it is tricky. I was an elementary classroom and this came up and it was, yeah, well, we can’t close the door because we can’t be alone with a student. And I sort of feel like it depends on the skill you’re teaching. But I think to me, the privacy’s most important is showing that you’re giving that privacy. Now, sometimes they’re like, well, we’re just going to keep it open a crack. And there’s a hallway. We can put this in front that has to go with whatever your regulations are. And I think as long as also families are aware, Hey, this is how much we can keep it open. Curtains are really nice. Then you don’t have to worry about there’s a closed door. There is a curtain though so if anyone needs help or if there’s any concerns that can sometimes put those ease.

Lisa (16:16):

Yeah, that’s a good idea. Okay. Let’s go on to scenario number three For this one, I’m going to need to give a little background that will lead up to this scenario. So this scenario would take place in a self-contained classroom. And so a lot of times adults will be giving physical prompts to the students. Like maybe an aid will do hand over hand to help a student write their letters or use a paintbrush to paint a picture. So over time, special ed teachers tried to fade those prompts so that the students can have more independence that kind of hand over hand prompting works really well when this student is willing to be guided in the activity. But sometimes there is an issue when the student doesn’t want to do what needs to be done. For example, they need to leave the playground and go back to class or they need to get on the bus to go home. So especially if the student is really small, it’s really easy for an adult to just pick them up and help them get to where they need to be.

Lisa (17:19):

Now so far, none of this sounds like it has anything to do with sexuality. However, it does have to do with physical touch. And so the question came from a teacher who wants to know how she can help her staff understand the long-term effects of this type of thing on a student regarding who can touch them physically and how it is important to try to limit or fade out the physical prompting.

Laura (17:46):

I always have to laugh at the bus questions! You could do whole podcasts just some buses…collaborations with buses. So I’m going to put that component just aside for a second. So this question is really all about bodily autonomy, which is the idea that your body belongs to you. No one else has control over it. And when thinking about disabilities, especially individuals with significant needs, often staff members have to be very physically involved with students…As you just mentioned with the toileting, maybe two to ones, and I’m three to one just to help a student navigate their day. But sometimes I think this happens out of necessity in also habit… Where you get used to kind of like physically prompting, which means you’re taking a student’s hand all the time. You’re guiding them all the time physically versus providing visual cues or other types of cues for the student to complete a task, or engage in their schedule, or the activity.

Laura (18:38):

So the first sort of suggestion here, we’ll just talk about the staff, how to address it with staffers, which is to review the primary goal of education. We want our students to be independent. That’s number one. And part of being independent and a self-determined adult is having advocacy, having advocacy over your body and being able to make choices about it. One example is… I worked with the high school student. I consulted with him and he was older. During groups and a lot of activities, he would start to scream or kind of move back and forth. He was non-ambulatory and so staff would say, okay, well, you know, we’re doing this activity, let’s just keep going and maybe push them further into the group or give him another piece of the activity. And then he would start maybe pinching them or throwing the activity and become a little bit more aggressive, a little bit more self-injurious. And often the response to him was he just doesn’t like it. He just wants to get out of it. And then they’d keep prompting him through saying, well, you just have to keep finishing this. I use that example as a way to sort of talk through with staff. Think about really what we’re teaching him then. So maybe they’re working on an arts activity, maybe they’re working on letters. But let’s think about what we really just taught him, which is that he learned that even when he is expressing “no” people don’t listen to his thoughts or his expression…that his sort of communication don’t matter… That adults can touch him whenever they want. And he can touch them because if he tries to pinch them, oh no, you can’t do that. If you tried to sort of bat them away. No, that’s not. Okay. So really that there’s nothing he can do about how people are working with him.

Laura (20:13):

And that’s not the message we want to send.This is difficult to do when you’re constantly balancing, how do we teach and build a skill, particularly for students who might need more physical prompting versus how do we also build the autonomy? And there is a way to do both. We need kids to feel in control and safe if they’re learning. And this, I think is a little bit of a shift for staff for the teacher who wrote in. Thinking about for their staff too, is we have a schedule. And I know we want to get our kids tohough that schedule and get through all these activities and meet these goals. Well, in order do that, we need this student to know that they are the ones in control of their learning, that we are the facilitators of the learning. We’re the facilitators to the knowledge but they’re the student in control of their learning. And that that will help build trust in this relationship. And I think that’s a huge message to reiterate to the staff because you cannot build skills with students well. And you cannot allow for them to really be participatory in their learning if there’s no trust in that relationship. So that’s the primary point for staff. And this is something I think all of us need to remind ourselves too. And I can say this with my son every morning. I’m like, come on, let’s get our shoes on. Let’s just do this. It’s really hard to not just be like, oh, let me, let me prompt you through it. Let’s

Lisa (21:29):

Just, just want to do it for them.

Laura (21:31):

Yeah, yeah, exactly. And part of it’s doing it for them and sometimes it’s not listening to their cues of like, okay, you’re going to get there. Or maybe today we just have the shoes and we’ll, we’ll figure out how to get them on later… Or thinking about all of those different pieces of what’s important. Shoes was not a great example. But anyway, there’s a big message there about just thinking about the larger point of what it is that we’re doing in education.

Laura (21:50):

Now, the question about what to do, if a student isn’t responding to other forms of instruction and maybe only responding to physical prompts, or that seems to be the primary way, you can get a student to learn. Physical prompts are evil, they’re a known for some kids that is the controlling, prompt, the prompt that does get them to learn a skill. They just need to be done “with’ the learner and not ‘to” the learner,. The student needs to be able to be part of it. If the student is distressed by the prompting, which often happens when you haven’t established the trust, then it is time to think about what else can we do. The caveat to this is if there’s an unsafe scenario, if you’re all outside on the playground and a student runs into the road, like you would with any other student, you’re going to go get them. I mean, so like there are safety reasons here and those need to be individually looked at, and the cost benefits of each of those scenarios looked at. But also if students only learning from a physical prompt, it might also be a time to look at do they really know all these baseline skills that we thought they knew. Cause if they’re not demonstrating that they can do X, Y, or Z without physical prompting, then maybe they never gained fluency with those foundational skills. So it might be time to also pull back and assess, is this too difficult or too easy? What’s happening in this learning situation?

Lisa (23:04):

That’s a really good point, that if you’re someone who’s teaching middle school or high school, um, let’s say that I have students in that kind of situation. I need to stop and take a look and see how I might need to go back and explicitly teach some of those foundation concepts and then teach them to all the students in the class, not necessarily just the one who’s struggling in that area right now.

Laura (23:28):

Hmmm mmm, and I think that especially if you have individuals you’re working with with really challenging behaviors, I think it’s like sometimes you’re in crisis. You don’t know what to do, and you don’t know how to prompt them or how to prompt the language, how to prompt all those pieces. Something that’s really hard to do is just to go back to that point of like, you know, to build skills. We really have to be working with you. The students that have just telling you what it is that we need or what it is that we expect, we have to see, like, do you even have some of these skills? How can we make this an environment that you want to be in and then start to work on building those skills?

Laura (23:58):

I hear rapport building all the time can, let’s build a rapport and that’s so important. But sometimes we do fly through that too fast. You try to build a rapport at the same time, you’re setting a schedule. And for some kids you might just need to build a rapport that might be your first quarter is just, let’s get you into this environment. And have you understand that, that you’re a learner in my classroom and here are all the different things that you can do here. And then we can really start picking away at some of these skills.

Speaker 1 (24:24):

Yeah, I think most special ed teachers spend a significant amount of time at the beginning of the year. Um, establishing trust in relationships as well as routines. However, I think a lot of teachers barely have any curriculum for reading or math. So sexuality education isn’t even on the radar. Well, at least I can only speak for myself, that I wasn’t probably thinking how does physical prompting apply to kids later down the road needing to know who can touch their body and, and all these topics that you’ve brought up. So there is really a lot to think about.

Lisa (24:58):

I know there’s a few topics that we are not going to have time to talk about, but maybe you can just mention some resources or some websites that could help with these scenarios. For example, like when teenage students with special needs, want to date each other, since they might see, or well definitely, will probably see gen ed peers dating on their campus. Also some resources for helping students with puberty, such as self stimulation, or self hygiene for girls after they get their periods and need to use, say a pad. Or what to do if they don’t want to do that, or maybe not even want to wear a bra, but they need to. Can you just speak briefly about some resources that teachers in more intensive settings can get some guidance or curriculum on these topics?

Laura (25:46):

Yep, absolutely. I think we’ll be easiest for most of your listeners is just to look at some curriculum. All of these things I think are great to have on your shelf. If you’re a special educator read through them, pick apart some of the lessons, there’s no curriculum that you can just package and take for every student because all students’ needs are so different, but I can recommend definitely some for you guys to look at. I mentioned Terry Cohen Haven before, she’s wonderful, “Teaching Children with Down Syndrome about their Bodies, Boundaries, and Sexuality.” And she also has a guide for parents and professionals as well. That’s great. I have both of those. They’re wonderful. She has “Boyfriends and Girlfriends,” which is also a dating guide for people with disabilities. And I believe that the reading level is the way the content is presented is great for a range of students.

Laura (26:30):

There are some Dave Hansberger has some really nice resources on taking care of yourself. Hygiene. He has a series, both for females and for males on masturbation. That’s really helpful that can help with you as a parent or an educator. If you get that in some ideas for that. There’s always the center for peer information and resources as well. Elevatus I mentioned them before they have a curriculum which is fantastic. They have a training for staff that they do, and they also have parent workshops that they lead as well. They have a curriculum that also has different types of content cards. So they have picture cards that can go to their curriculum as well, which is really nice. If you buy the curriculum and you decide, I want to teach privacy, they’ll give you the slide deck. And then you also can get different picture cards that might help students who need a little bit more concrete, visual images.

Laura (27:20):

And that’s specifically for high school, though some of the content, you know, you can find ways to water it down. So it could be more middle school. Those are the places I would start. There’s other places that are working on building the elementary curriculum. The last two things I’ll mention is I’m the American Publishing House for the blind was going to, and they might’ve already come out with it, but they had a sexuality kit for awhile that was tactile that was for individuals with vision impairments. So that would be another big one for meeting the needs of a big population. And Boardmaker for a while had sexuality symbols. Now, the last time I checked, I couldn’t find them, but someone might have that resource or maybe that might be something to look into, but they also had symbols that were explicitly for teaching this type of content.

Lisa (28:00):

Isn’t there also a Vanderbilt curriculum for both boys and girls that has a lot of visuals,

Laura (28:07):

Kennedy Vanderbelt. Yeah. That’s the hard part getting the visuals. I like the Cohen Haven books because she gives lessons. You just need to then make the materials. So if you’re doing body parts, you got to kind of,

Lisa (28:18):

Right. Yeah. I’ve been working on that. I have some flashcards on body parts that have some sorting activities and such, I got really detailed with like 60 body parts or so. But I did keep it at an elementary level regarding the sexual parts. I used clip art or drawings, cartoon pictures of kids and underwear. And then I have arrows pointing to say the penis area, et cetera. And I did that because I’m not sure if I could sell it with clip art with the actual sexual organs showing, but teachers can draw it in if you need to.

Laura (28:54):

Yeah. It’s just, it’s hard. And I do think special educators are asked to do all the jobs and part of this is sort of pushing a little bit back and saying some of this has to come from the home.

Lisa (29:03):

Yeah, well that is true. Since some of these resources teachers could pass on to the parents. Yeah. Well, we will link to all of those in the show notes. Yes. So I’m glad we got to go over these scenarios today and please tell us how the listeners can contact you if they want to follow up.

Laura (29:20):

Sure. You can find me at the Watson Institute, You can find me on Twitter at @RachelBCBA. But really if you guys have extra questions, feel free to email me and I can kind of keep you updated or in the loop on different projects or things that we’re doing.

Lisa (29:36):

I can’t thank you enough for coming on this show.

Laura (29:39):

My pleasure.

Lisa (29:40):

I think this is an area that is really overlooked. Yeah. Or perhaps teachers are just really unsure how to deal with the situations that come up in our classrooms. Yeah. I so appreciate you sharing your expertise with us today, Rachel. And I hope our listeners implement your strategies and tips, or at least get the conversation going with their colleagues, their administrators with parents. And I hope they go look up the resources you mentioned and share them with parents. Thanks again.

Laura (30:09):

Thank you so much. It’s been great.

Lisa (30:13):

[Ending] Now, when I start to get stressed or overwhelmed about school stuff, I find it helps to take a moment to slow down, stop and focus on my breathing. Sometimes I also might say the Serenity Prayer aloud or in my head. Here it is, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I might also add a few of my own words. Here’s a sample for us special educators: Help us to listen and truly understand our students. Please give us words, actions and solutions, which will help in difficult situations. May our classrooms be peaceful places where teachers, staff, and students learn and thrive. And after that, I try to go out and find someone else to help because helping others keeps me from selfishly dwelling on my own problems.

Thank you so much for listening and I hope you heard something helpful during this episode that you can implement in your teaching. Remember, you are amazing what you do makes a difference and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Go find someone else to encourage because they probably need to be reminded that they are amazing, too.

(32:43) End

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