I was initially mortified to attend an ABC’s of Sexuality workshop at the Centre for Autism on Saturday. My youngest is 11, and while he doesn’t have autism, I knew that the information would likely be relevant for any kid with an intellectual disability (and it was).
I was thankful that another mom friend accompanied me and sat fidgeting and nervous as I waited to participate in Sexuality Educator’s Stephanie Mitelman‘s ice-breaker. She had us circulate around the room, asking questions of the other participants, like:
- Do you remember your first wet dream? (OMG there were MEN in the room)
- Were you really told how babies were made?
- Were you ready for your first period?
Did I mention that there were MEN in the room? That’s a heck of a way to kick-start a workshop, but I can tell you that it was very effective, for two reasons. One, we got to know each other, quickly, and two, it exposed our collective mortification. We were all blushing and mumbling, most of us at least 30 years away from our own adolescence.
No wonder many of us screw up talking about sex even with our typical kids. I recall my mom gave me a book, explaining puberty, babies and stuff…and guess what I did with my two older kids? I gave them a book explaining puberty, babies and stuff. I asked them: Any questions? Nope, they said, and that was that.
Here’s what I learned about kids with intellectual disabilities. Their bodies mature like typical kids. But the confusion that accompanies puberty needs to be explained in a way that they will understand. Because although their bodies might be typical, their minds are not. And we cannot hope that they acquire this information via osmosis from health class or their peers.
Stephanie is an exceptional facilitator. She is very knowledgeable, but also has a wicked laugh and a great sense of humour. (If we can’t laugh about this stuff, what can we laugh about?). She reminded us that parents pass on their own values to their kids. So if we are mortified to talk about sex, our kids will be too (I’m guilty as charged).
But for kids with differences, we must teach them, scaffolding information by building on simple explanations, and then breaking it down into small chunks, utilizing visuals & concrete examples, and repeating simple rules. It is also our job to model and educate our kids how to be a good girlfriend or boyfriend, as they are watching us in our own relationships very closely. While most kids learn intuitively, our kids do not – they need to learn by instruction.
Although we try to protect them, our kids are also exposed to all sorts of images in the media and on the Internet. We need to talk to them about what is real and what is pretend.
That was an interesting way to spend 8 hours on a snowy Saturday, but well worth it. I realized I needed help talking to our boy about sex when he came home after the ‘talk’ in health class. I asked him what he learned, and he proudly told me: “I learned that a lady’s penis is called a venus.”
Oh my. We have a long way to go, but at least now I’ve begun.
For more resources, Stephanie wrote a great article on Wise Women Montreal called 15 Tips for Talking to Your Kids about Sex. She also recommends the Sexuality and U website from the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.
And if you ever catch wind of a sexuality workshop? Go! You might just learn something new. Personally, my own needle has moved from mortified to slightly blushing. After all these years, three kids and two marriages later, that’s pretty significant.