Sexuality Resource Center for Parents: Tools, Tips, and Tricks for Teaching Children about Human Sexuality

Comprehensive Sexuality Education

(For Parents of Children with Developmental Disabilities)

Your child may or may not be receiving sexuality education in school. If they are, then talk with your child’s teachers to find out what will be covered – and be prepared to cover anything that’s left out. If your child isn’t receiving sexuality education in school, then it will be up to you to provide that education in its entirety. We recommend a comprehensive approach to sexuality education.

A comprehensive approach to sexuality education must encompass many things. The goals of comprehensive sexuality education, then, are to:

    • Provide information. All people have the right to accurate information about human growth and development, human reproduction, anatomy, physiology, masturbation, family life, pregnancy, childbirth, parenthood, sexual response, sexual orientation, contraception, abortion, sexual abuse, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases.
    • Develop values. Sexuality education gives young people the opportunity to question, explore, and assess attitudes, values, and insights about human sexuality. The goals of this exploration are to help young people understand family and cultural values, develop their own values, increase their self-esteem, develop insights about relationships with members of both sexes, and understand their responsibilities to others.
    • Develop interpersonal skills. Sexuality education can help young people develop skills in communication, decision-making, assertiveness, peer refusal skills, and the ability to create satisfying relationships.
    • Develop responsibility. Providing sexuality education helps young people to develop their concept of responsibility and to exercise that responsibility in sexual relationships. This is achieved by providing information about and helping young people to consider abstinence, resist pressure to become prematurely involved in sexual activities they cannot handle emotionally or physically, properly use contraception and take other health measures to prevent sexually related problems (such as unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases), and to resist sexual exploitation or abuse.

When one considers the list above, it becomes clear that a great deal of information about sexuality, relationships, and the self needs to be communicated to children and teens. In addition to providing this information, parents and professionals need to allow children and teens opportunities for discussion and observation, as well as to practice important skills such as decision-making, assertiveness, and socializing. Thus, sexuality education is not achieved in a series of lectures that take place when children are approaching or experiencing puberty. Sexuality education is a life-long process and should begin as early in a child’s life as possible.

Shocking Statistics

More than 90 percent of people with developmental disabilities will experience sexual abuse at some point in their lives. Forty-nine percent will experience ten or more abusive incidents.


Providing comprehensive sexuality education to children and teens with developmental disabilities is particularly important and challenging due to their unique needs. These individuals often have fewer chances to observe, develop, and practice appropriate social and sexual behaviors, may have a reading level that limits their access to information, may require special materials that explain sexuality in ways they can understand, and may need more time and repetition in order to understand the concepts presented to them. Yet with opportunities to learn about and discuss the many dimensions of human sexuality, young people with developmental disabilities can gain an understanding of the role that sexuality plays in all our lives, the social aspects to human sexuality, and values and attitudes about sexuality and social and sexual behaviors. They can also learn valuable interpersonal skills and develop an awareness of their own responsibility for their bodies and their actions. Ultimately, all that they learn prepares them to assume the responsibilities of adulthood, living, working, and socializing in personally meaningful ways within the community.


Adapted from NICHCY News Digest, Volume 1, Number 3, 1992. NICHCY is the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. It is located in Washington, DC.

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