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Sexual Education for Teens with Disabilities         

Akara Ingram, Intern, Center on Adolescent Sexuality, Pregnancy and Parenting (CASPP), Human Development & Family Studies, University of Missouri Extension

Who Is Considered Disabled?
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a person with a disability as anyone having physical or mental limitations of one or more major basic life activities, including eating, bathing, dressing, walking, or learning.


Cognitive Disabilities
One of the largest and most common groups of youth mainstreamed into society is youth with learning disabilities. A learning disability is a disorder of one or more basic psychological processes involved in understanding and using spoken and written language. Often, teens with learning disabilities have low academic achievement, which can have a negative impact on how they feel about school and themselves. It is estimated that one million teens affected by learning disabilities drop out of high school each year. Within three to five years of dropping out, 50 percent of women with disabilities are pregnant.

Unfortunately, service providers are unaware of the affected teens’ learning needs and provide them the same information and treatment as teens without disabilities. Many read at lower grade levels, have auditory processing problems, and/or have difficulty processing information and following instructions. Some teens with disabilities may also have problems with memory, sustaining effort and accuracy over time, remaining on task, retaining information, and difficulty with sequencing. These all imply how teens with disabilities receive and process information on pregnancy prevention and reproductive health.


Why are Teens at Risk for Teen Pregnancy?

  • Low achievement scores; poor academic performance
  • Low expectation for graduation or post high school outcomes
  • Lack of knowledge and skills to prevent sexual activity or to use contraceptives
  • Sexual abuse
  • Poverty
  • Living in single-parent household


Why are Teens with Disabilities at Greater Risk?
The reasons listed above as well as:

  • Impulsive behavior
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Poor social skills (inability to pick up on subtle social cues)


Social Skills! Who Needs Them?
Teens who lack social skills may experience social isolation. This isolation can cause the teen to feel incompetent, dependent, lonely, freakish, impotent and asexual. Over-protectiveness by family can emphasize the teen’s deficits, leading to unhappiness, self-consciousness, and the inability or lack of initiative to make decisions.

Sexual Abuse and Exploitation is Four Times Higher Among this Group because of....

  • Possible physical and cognitive limitations to determine safety
  • Lack of knowledge of sexuality and lack of information on exploitation
  • Impulsivity, low self-esteem, poor decision-making skills and lack of social opportunity

What Can Be Done?

    Sex Education

  • Parents should be the first educators
  • Begin early, in elementary school before children become sexually active
  • Use broad-based curriculum (anatomy, physiology, contraception, and sexually transmitted diseases)
  • Provide information on communication, decision-making, and goal setting with a focus on the future
  • Share information on pregnancy and how it relates to the disability (affects of carrying a baby and parenting)

    Successful Sex Education Programs should…

  • Identify teens who need special accommodations
  • Build trust
  • Appeal to various learning styles (auditory, visual, and experimental materials)
  • Be available in alternative print (Braille or large print) for visually impaired
  • Provide information at a slower pace
  • Use clear pictures, newspaper articles, or television programs to illustrate information
  • Provide social interaction to give them “real life” relationships that will assist in giving context for information about sexuality and reproductive health


What Resources are Available?

  • Americans with Disability Act and Reproductive Health Project
  • PACER Center
  • The Adolescent Gynecology Teen Clinic
  • ARC of the U.S.
  • Planned Parenthood
  • The Family Village Web site
  • Material and Child Health National Center for Cultural Competency



**All information used was taken from an article entitled:
Sexuality Issues for Youth with Disabilities and Chronic Health Conditions. Healthy and Ready to Work. Author affiliation: Florida University at Gainesville. Inst. For Child Health Policy. Published April 2000. Retrieved June 17, 2008 from



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Last Updated 07/21/2009