Though he knew the basics about where babies came from, proper and improper touching, stranger danger, and the fact that it was okay to masturbate in private but not in public, at 12, I felt it was time for Taylor to understand more about sex, sexuality and protection.
“But Taylor, you need to have a better understanding about sex.” I said… He wanted zero part of this discussion. “Arrrrrrrrrrgh!” he replied.
Was it so hard because I was a single mother trying to teach my young pubescent son about an embarrassing subject? After all, most kids don’t really want to hear about sex, love, protection and relationships from their mother.
I wondered how much autism contributed to his inability to comprehend and cope with such a discussion – which by the way I attempted to have again when he was 13, 14, 15, 16, etc. But I was determined. Even if it took dozens of approaches to get him to filter and digest the topic of sex and safety, he would eventually hear the message.
So I went to the library and checked out the best books I could find – ones with great pictures and reverent yet “hip” approaches to the subject of sex, and plopped them down on his bed. “Here read these.” I said. “If you won’t talk with me or anybody else about sex and safety (I had composed a list of male friends and family he could talk to but he refused) then you have to read about it.” And that is how Taylor received his first introduction to the realities of sex and safety. All this even before they began sex education in school, because I felt he would need longer to digest it all.
Looking back, I see I had it very easy with Taylor’s learning curve as compared to many others who have a child with greater challenges, and yet it was by no means easy to create this education. There are tangible and intangible obstacles that make the process of teaching sex education harder for individuals with disabilities. Whether it is cognition, language, physical, mental, or emotional deficits or other things that challenge our special needs community, ours is surely a difficult path. And yet disability is no excuse for not providing the best education we can. As parents and professionals, we must take the bull by the proverbial horns and do the best we can to provide this solid education in sexuality and safety. It is unfortunate, but true, that many parents assume their child/adult lacks desire, urges, lust or wants – yet this is simply not true.
But how does one teach safety, for example, to a young girl who is 13 or 15 but has the mind of a 5 year old? How does one teach a young boy about appropriate touching when he is hyper tactile and doesn’t understand the ramifications of touching oneself – or others – in public? How about a person with a physical disability for example; how often do we assume they need no education because they are not sexual beings? These questions, myths and truths (and more) will be explored in my new documentary film on this topic.
I have seen too many special kids grow to be adults with little understanding of their bodies, their urges, and personal safety, and thus have lesser sexual wellness as adults. And I have witnessed how lack of education and awareness has led to abuse. This film will be an effort to wake us up as parents, professionals and as a society; to share an informative and open dialogue on this important topic.
Certainly it is harder to teach this population about sexuality and safety, but teach we must. We need to accept that sex and sexuality are a fact of life – even for our special needs child/adult.
Though society, magazines, and the media would have us believe that sexuality is just for the “able-bodied,” this is a myth and is simply not true. All people possess desire and all individuals are entitled to sexual wellness and happiness. And so we must, I repeat, we must dispel the myths and do a better job at education and openness in this community. Sexual literacy is imperative, not just for some, but for all.
My new film, “DESIRE” will be my fourth film, but my greatest challenge. Clearly sexuality with all its tentacles (including dating, relationships, love, protection, abuse, etc.) encompasses a very difficult subject to dissect, and harder still to boil down to a 60 minute format, but this is the plan – so wish me luck!
Soon, I will post detailed questions in my blog for those of you who would like to chime in on this topic. For now, I leave you with this baseline question:
What are your feelings about the general topic of sexuality and disabilities? Serious replies only please.