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.
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
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
Why are Teens at Risk for Teen Pregnancy?
- Low achievement scores; poor academic performance
- Low expectation for graduation or post high
- Lack of knowledge and skills to prevent sexual
activity or to use contraceptives
- Sexual abuse
- 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
- Impulsivity, low self-esteem, poor decision-making
skills and lack of social opportunity
What Can Be Done?
- 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
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
What Resources are Available?
- Americans with Disability Act and Reproductive
- 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
**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