Replacing common worries & beliefs
Silence & avoidance doesn’t help children
‘It can be tempting to consider protection of a vulnerable person from all learning about sexual matters in the hope that this will protect them from all sexual experiences. This is not necessarily the case’ Shine SA, ‘Sexual Health and People Living with a Disability’ (South Australia) https://www.shinesa.org.au/community-information/disability-sexuality/living-with-disability/
Having thoughts, worries and beliefs is understandable and shared by many. However we also know that not talking about these topics doesn’t protect children. Silence or avoidance does not help.
Teaching children provides a foundation for them to be safe
The worries that were mentioned in the previous section, while held many, are not true. Some people call them myths and they need to be busted or challenged.
What is needed is for parents and others to teach children about their bodies and healthy relationships – ‘don’t create fear, create facts’
What we know is that:
- Children with disabilities do have the same (physical, emotional, sexual) feelings, responses and development as other children. They go through the same stages and will have the same reactions e.g. puberty is a challenging time for everyone!
- They may be heterosexual or homosexual; they may be transgender like other children.
- Talking about bodies, sexuality, relationships will be helpful to children and young people because they think about these areas the same way as all children do – hear about it from friends or through the media and that information may not be the most helpful source of information!
- Talking about bodies, sexuality, relationships assists children with the skills they need to manage and life with these feelings in a healthy and rewarding way,
- Children and young people with disabilities can be supported to understand the changes happening in their bodies, about sexuality and relationships when it is done thoughtfully and matching their needs.
- Not talking about these topics does not shelter children from the world of sex and can add to their confusion and lack of preparation to deal with a range of situations.
- Being informed empowers children. Sexual education has been demonstrated to reduce the risk of people with a disability being either the victim or perpetrator of sexual abuse (Winges-Yanez, 2014)
Understanding why children don’t raise these topics – to protect their parents!
- Just because children don’t raise the topic doesn’t mean they are not interested or don’t need to know. It is more likely because they don’t know how to raise it, are protecting their parents from a topic they sense is uncomfortable or don’t know what they don’t know!
- In fact one study reported that 47% of young people reported that they had not talked to their parents about sexuality (McDaniels & Fleming, 2016) and another that young people and parents find it difficult to talk about sexual topics together (Pownall, Andrew & Hastings, 2012).
You need to feel supported to raise these topics
- Teaching children about their bodies and healthy relationships may feel hard and even scary but can also feel exciting and very rewarding as you help your child learn and grow. This is an opportunity for you to support your child, by not creating fear but facts.
- To be able to do this, to talk about these topics with your child, you need to feel supported and there are lots of ways that can happen. You need to find the way that will work for you.
- Whilst finding it hard is understandable and shared by many others, the first step to moving on from this position is giving yourself permission to have these feelings and then giving yourself the message that you can move on from this position.
- It’s important to know that many parents do move on and they have given us lots of ideas and examples about how it can be done.