Differing Abilities

Understanding Your Child’s Development

Children with disabilities may develop earlier or later due to their disability or medical condition. Whether your child has a disability or not, their developmental stages will follow the same pattern, until they pass through puberty and adolescence to become a sexually mature adult. Your child’s development will be unique to them and they will have their own unique learning needs. They will need support, acceptance, understanding and compassion to move through their development in a healthy way. Continue to talk with your child about the values that surround sexual health throughout their life. Learning about development in the different age ranges will help you to understand where your child is in their development—they may fall into one or more developmental stages.

  • Birth to 2 years
  • 3 and 4 years of age
  • 5 and 6 years of age
  • 7, 8, and 9 years of age
  • 10,11, and 12 years of age
  • 13, 14, and 15 years of age
  • 16, 17, and 18 years of age

What They Need to Know

Sexual Assault/Abuse and Developmental Disability

Children with any kind of disability are more than twice as likely to be sexually abused as children without a disability. For adults with developmental disabilities, the risk of being physically or sexually assaulted is 4 to 10 times higher than other adults.

Children and youth with disabilities are more at risk for sexual abuse and assault because:

  • They often need assistance with personal care and hygiene.
  • They may find it difficult to report abuse because of communication difficulties.
  • They are often taught to comply with authority which may make it harder for them to recognize abuse.
  • They may be targeted because of their lower cognitive functioning.
  • They may not be believed when they report abuse.

What Can Parents Do?

According to experts, there are some strategies parents can use to protect their child from being victimized. Parents can:

  • Protect their children by giving them correct information about sex and teach them to use correct language for their own body parts.
  • Be certain their children understand and are aware of the concept of privacy.
  • Teach children about good touch vs. bad touch (see more information below).
  • Teach children about personal boundaries and when it is okay to say ‘no’. Often people with disabilities are taught to do as they are told but they need to know they have the right to not comply when personal boundaries are crossed.
  • Try to role play situations to practice saying no.
  • Ensure their children understand their personal rights and their choices for healthy sexuality.

Good Touch vs. Bad Touch

Touches that they make us feel loved and cared about are important to get. It may also be helpful to include a discussion of feelings that a person may have when they get the following ‘okay’ and ‘not-okay’ touches. The 3 key messages behind this idea are:

  1. Touches that are important to get and they make us feel loved and cared about. This includes touches like hugs, kisses, handshakes, cuddles, a pat on the back, high fives, etc.
  1. Hurtful touches might leave a bruise or mark on our body. Giving hurtful touches isn’t okay, and it’s not okay for people that take care of kids to give them hurtful touches or for kids to see other people getting hurtful touches. This includes touches like punches, kicks, slaps, bites, etc.
  1. Give your child a definition for child sexual abuse. Introduce this as another kind of hurtful touch that is also ‘not okay’. The definition could be something like:

“When someone bigger or older looks at or touches your private parts for no good reason or when someone bigger or older asks you to look at or touch the bigger or older person’s private parts.” (With older children include: “or when an older or bigger person talks to you in a sexual or inappropriate way or shows you pictures or sites on the Internet of naked people or of people touching people’s private (or sexual) parts.”)

Puberty

Most children will start to experience signs of puberty between the ages of 9 and 13, some earlier and some later. Give your child the facts about their body and an understanding of puberty—this will help them to understand that these changes are normal and healthy before it happens. Children with disabilities may develop later or earlier due to their disability or medical condition. Ask your family doctor if you have questions or concerns about this.

Physical changes are often the first sign that your child is starting puberty and for your child, this can be both exciting and upsetting. Preparing your child for these changes and helping them to develop skills to cope with the changes (e.g., hygiene) is very important.

Females

For girls, puberty usually starts between the ages of 9 and 15.  Here’s what children in this stage of development should know about:

  • Growth spurts
  • Breast growth
  • Menstruation—use a calendar or diary to keep track of their cycle. This will help you both to plan for the next one.
  • Body/pubic hair growth
  • Acne
  • Increased sweating
  • Birth control—it can be hard to imagine your children becoming sexually active, and teenagers with disabilities are no exception.
Males

For boys puberty usually starts between the ages of 10 and 16.  Here’s what children in this stage of development should know about:

  • Growth spurts
  • Body/pubic hair growth
  • Voice changes
  • Wet dreams
  • Acne
  • Increased sweating
  • Birth control—it can be hard to imagine your children becoming sexually active, and teenagers with disabilities are no exception.

Physical and Sexual Development by Age

For more information on physical and sexual development in males and females, click on the appropriate age range below:

For more information, visit our Resources page.

Click here to learn tips for discussing sexual health.

Helpful Tools

 

Parent Guide (0-12 year olds)

This resource will help you prepare for the ongoing conversations you’ll have with your child about sexual health. Whether you’ve had conversations in the past or not, it’s never too late to start!

 

Parent Guide (13-18 year olds)

This resource will help you prepare for the ongoing conversations you’ll have with your teen about sexual health. Whether you’ve had conversations in the past or not, it’s never too late to start!

 

Sexuality Wheel

The Sexuality Wheel depicts just how broad the concept of sexuality really is.

 

The "Every Body" Gender Identity Learning Tool

Understand the difference and correlation between biological sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.

 

FAQ Topic Flash Cards

See sample questions and answers to help you start the conversation about sexual health with your child.

 

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) Tool

See terms and definitions for some of the more commonly known sexually transmitted infections.

 

Birth Control Tool

With several options available to choose from, this tool helps clarify each type of birth control and how it works.

 

Understanding Consent Video

Consent is an important concept for children to learn about from an early age, as it can lead to better relationships with family, friends, peers and, eventually romantic partners.

 

Tips for Discussing Sexual Health

Here are some tips for starting or having conversations about sexual health, at any age.

 
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