How I Helped Organize a Sexual Health Class for Special Needs
I work with adolescents on social skills and noticed that concerns about relationships and safety come up often. After working at a high school for a year, I started thinking about options for health classes for the populations I work with. Some of my students take the regular education health class offered but I wasn’t sure that was an appropriate fit for our students. So the special education teachers, school psychologist and I worked together to find a curriculum that suited our student’s needs.
How do we go about teaching a sensitive subject?
The first question was how to teach this delicate subject matter. We met with all of the parents to hear if they were interested in this class for their children. In the end, most parents agreed that this was important for their child to learn and were happy it would be taught in way they can understand. Parents were also happy to not be the only ones teaching their children about this. Once we knew parents were on board, we thought about what our student’s needed to aid their comprehension. We put together binders with visuals to accompany each lesson. We also did worksheets to practice. We planned to have the male teacher take the boys, and I lead a group of girls. This worked out nicely because it led to open discussions. These subjects that can be embarrassing and make many people feel uncomfortable (adults included), so we felt this made the students feel a little more comfortable.
The next part to figure out was what to cover. We used Sexuality Across the Lifespan, an instructional manual made by the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council as a reference and starting point. From there we thought about what topics to include and modified material for our students. We knew we wanted to start by talking about hygiene, especially the changes that occur during puberty and how to keep ourselves clean and healthy as young adults. Even though our students already went through puberty, many aren’t independent in taking care of themselves yet. To help them learn how to get themselves ready, we made daily hygiene charts with pictures as reminders of what to do in the morning and what to do at night.
Another important area was social boundaries. We used The Circle Curriculum, a very clear method to teach the different levels of closeness in relationships. Circles focuses on the social concepts of personal space, social distance, and social/sexual concepts. It was written by teachers, counselors, and consultants. This program is so great because it uses a visual of six color coded circles to teach the different levels, which really helps students understand. Students easily pick up that if someone is in the blue “family” circle, hugging is allowed. If someone is in the yellow “acquaintance” level, then no touching is allowed and instead a wave would be appropriate. We also spent a lot of time on was teaching the concept of public vs. private. We talked about the behaviors that are okay to do in public and what should be kept private.
The hardest part was determining how much to say about sex. It’s a difficult thing to talk about but it was important for us to teach our students so they can stay safe. We ended up covering it briefly but stating the important facts. We stressed that this is an act adults choose when they are ready to have children. It was important to discuss that even though our students may be adults by age, they aren’t ready for that responsibility right now. Our goal was to give our students the knowledge about sex and health in order to keep them safe.
What I learned
After going through this I feel that our students really needed direct instruction on these topics modified to their levels. It’s important to realize that our students pick up on what they hear other students say or what they see on TV but may not fully understand or misinterpret it. For that reason, explaining these topics to them really helped. Overall, this was a much needed resource for our students and a great experience for me.