Differing Abilities

Understanding Your Child’s Development

Children with differing abilities may develop earlier or later.  Although no 2 children will develop the same way, they will still progress through stages. Each child also has their own learning needs. Keep talking with your child about your values around sexual health as they grow and develop into adulthood. Learning about the development that happens at different ages will help you to understand where your child is in their development.

  • 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 Your Child Needs Your Help to Learn

Sexual Assault/Abuse and Developmental Disability

Children with differing abilities of any kind are more than 2 times as likely to be sexually abused as a child with no disability. Adults with developmental disabilities are 4 to 10 times more likely to be physically or sexually assaulted.

Children up to 18 years old are more at risk for sexual abuse and assault because they:

  • often need help with personal care and hygiene
  • may find it harder to report abuse if they have problems communicating
  • may be targeted because their mental age is younger than their real age
  • may not be believed when they report abuse

What Parents Can Do

Experts tell us that there are some things parents can do to protect their child from sexual assault or abuse. Parents can:

  • make sure their child is told correct information about sex
  • teach them to use correct language for their own body parts
  • make sure their child understands what ‘privacy’ means
  • make sure their child knows about good touch vs. bad touch
  • make sure their child knows what a personal boundary is and when it’s okay to say ‘no’. Often people with disabilities are taught to do as they’re told. However, they need to know they have the right to say ‘no’ when they feel their personal boundary is being crossed
  • role play possible situations so their child can practice saying ‘no’
  • make sure their child understands their rights and their choices for healthy sexuality

Good Touch vs. Bad Touch

Touches that make us feel loved and cared about are important. It may also help to talk about feelings that a person may have when they get ‘okay’ and ‘not-okay’ touches. The 3 main messages behind this idea are:

  1. Touches are important because they make us feel loved and cared about (like hugs, kisses, cuddles, a pat on the back, and high 5’s)
  2. Giving hurtful touches isn’t okay. It’s not okay for people who take care of kids to give them hurtful touches. It’s also not okay for kids to see other people getting hurtful touches. This includes touches like punches, kicks, slaps, bites, or anything else that leaves a mark on their body).
  3. Explain what child sexual abuse is. Introduce this as another kind of hurtful touch that’s also not okay. You can say 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 other way that makes you feel uncomfortable 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 show signs of puberty between the ages of 9 and 13. Children with differing abilities may develop earlier or later. Ask your family doctor if you have questions or concerns about this. Give your child the facts about their body. Explain what puberty is before they start showing signs: This will help them understand that these changes are normal and healthy.

Physical changes are often the first sign that your child’s starting puberty. This can be both exciting and upsetting for a child. That’s why it’s important to talk to your child about these changes and help them learn the skills to cope with the changes (e.g., hygiene).

Females

Puberty usually starts between the ages of 9 and 15. Here’s what to expect:

  • may have growth spurts
  • breasts may start to grow
  • may begin menstruating (gets her period)
  • grow more body hair and grow pubic hair
  • may have acne
  • may sweat more

This maybe a good time to talk about birth control. It can be hard to imagine that your teen may become sexually active—teenagers with differing abilities are no exception.

Males

Puberty usually starts between the ages of 10 and 16. Here’s what to expect:

  • growth spurts
  • may grow more body hair (including pubic hair)
  • voice will change
  • nocturnal emissions (‘wet dreams’)
  • may have acne
  • may sweat more

This maybe a good time to talk about birth control. It can be hard to imagine that your teen may become sexually active—teenagers with differing abilities are no exception.

Physical and Sexual Development by Age

To learn more about physical and sexual development in males and females, click on any of the age ranges below:

To learn more, see Resources.

To learn more, see Tips for Talking about 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

Explore the dimensions of human sexuality.

 

The "Every Body"

Learn about the differences 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

Learn about some common sexually transmitted infections.

 

Birth Control Tool

Explore birth control options, how they work and how well they protect against pregnancy and STIs.

 

Understanding Consent Video

For ages 12 and up.

 

Tips for Discussing Sexual Health

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

 
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