DiAnn Baxley, BScEd, MAR
We are all sexual beings from the day we are born. Sexuality is the exploration of ourselves - our physical bodies, our emotions, our self-worth and image, and our interrelations with others. It is one of the most basic human instincts, and no matter what level our learning abilities, it is a natural part of being human to have the desire to discover what our bodies are all about. It is our ability to learn the responsibilities and consequences of the various aspects of sexuality that will define for each of us to what degree of involvement and discovery we will explore.
Children and adolescents with a developmental disability often do not have access to the same knowledge and information as their peers without a disability. Not all schools or family settings provide opportunities for learning to take place. Even when education is provided, it may not address the unique learning needs of individuals with dual diagnoses. Educational programs often teach avoidance of sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted sexual activity, and inappropriate sexual behavior, while avoiding teaching the knowledge and skills necessary to develop friendships and loving relationships. Relationship building is an area in which children with dual diagnoses often need the most assistance. It is therefore imperative that schools and parents or guardians work together from early on to prepare children and adolescents for responsible sexuality expression, both social and sexual, in adulthood.
A commitment to cultivating change requires education for both educators and parents/guardians. Social-sexual educators (formal and informal) need to be trained to explore whether or not their own values, beliefs, and knowledge impede rather than help an individual with his or her knowledge development. Any biases about emotional disorders need to be explored as well. It is important that social-sexual educators know what resources are available to assist with assessment, communication and learning. When planned sexuality education is provided for an individual, either at home or school, dialogue and collaboration between educator and family must occur so as to provide a consistency of information, as well as a balance between providing safety for the individual and allowing each person to exercise his or her rights to the maximum degree possible.
It is important that schools and families communicate throughout the learning process. Schools need to establish guiding principles and policies that will address the social-sexual needs, psychological needs, and learning process of each child with a dual diagnosis. There are some key guidelines to keep in mind while establishing policy:
"Individuals with dual diagnosis have the right to learn about sex, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, safe sex and other issues regarding sexuality;
"Individuals with dual diagnosis have the right to request information about sexuality and all forms of social relationships;
"Some individuals with dual diagnosis may need extra support in recognizing opportunities and in developing the skills and knowledge which will help them develop loving relationships;
"Many individuals with dual diagnosis may require continuing education regarding sexual/physical abuse, and/or greater protection against victimization than the persons without co-occurring emotional disabilities or no disabilities at all;
"Individuals with dual diagnosis have the right to develop expressions of sexuality reflective of age, cultural values, social development and social responsibility;
"Any opportunities for learning should be, to the extent possible, individualized to meet the unique learning needs of each individual.
Establishing guidelines and policy will better prepare the individual with dual diagnosis to live and participate as independently and safely as possible in the community when they reach adulthood.
DiAnn Baxley, BScEd, MAR
Center on Intellectual Disabilities
University at Albany
Husted 131, 135 Western Avenue
Albany, NY 12222