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Young girls with differing abilities learning about sexual health

Differing Abilities

Understanding Your Child’s Development

Children with differing abilities may develop earlier or later.  Although no two children will develop the same way, they will still progress through the different 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.

What Your Child Needs Your Help to Learn

Sexual Assault, Abuse and Differing Abilities

Disability can make someone more vulnerable to assault and abuse. 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 are more at risk for sexual abuse and sexual 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 if their mental age is younger than their real age
  • may not be believed when they report abuse

Protecting Your Child from Sexual Assault or Abuse

Sexuality is an important part of overall wellbeing for all individuals, including those with disabilities. Children and youth who receive sexuality education that focuses on their needs are less vulnerable to abuse and sexual exploitation and have healthier friendships and relationships. Each child is unique and thus, strategies will need to be tailored to each child’s specific needs and abilities.

Here are some tips to consider which may help protect your child from sexual assault or sexual abuse:

  • providing them with sexual health information that focuses on their needs
  • teaching them to use the correct names for body parts
  • making sure they understand which parts of their body are ‘private’, and what ‘privacy’ means
  • making sure they know about ‘okay’ and ‘not okay’ touch. Teach them to pay attention to how a touch makes them feel and their ‘uh-oh’ feelings. Even if a touch feels good, but they get an ‘uh-oh’ feeling, this kind of touch is not okay.
  • making sure your child knows what a personal boundary is and that 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.
  • practicing skills using role play and problem solving so your child can practice saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’
  • making sure your child understands their rights and their choices for healthy sexuality

’Okay’ Touch vs. ‘Not Okay’ Touch

There are 5 main messages behind this idea:

  1. Teach your child that their body is their own and no one can touch it or look at it without their permission. Inappropriate touches are wrong and are against the law. Talking about this idea at an early age, using the correct name for body parts, and teaching your child which parts of their body are “private”, will help them understand what is okay and not okay. They should also be taught to respect others when someone says ‘no’ to them, no matter what.
  2. Help your child recognize how they feel when they are in safe, uncomfortable and unsafe situations. Emphasize that your child should pay attention to how a touch makes them feel and their ‘uh-oh’ feelings. Even if a touch feels good, but they get an ‘uh-oh’ feeling, this kind of touch is not okay.
  3. Be a trusted adult one your child can tell anything to. Talk to them about who the other trusted adults in their lives are. They could be anyone from another family member or close family friend, to their neighbour, teacher or coach.
  4. There are no secrets around touch and all kinds of touch can be talked about. Secrets that makes them anxious, uncomfortable, scared or depressed are not good. Encourage them to share with yourself or another trusted adult.
  5. Always believe what you’ve been told. When a child tells you they have been touched, treated, or spoken to in a way that feels uncomfortable, unsafe or hurtful, believe them, get more information, and keep them safe.

For more information about discussing a range of sexuality topics with children and youth with differing abilities, visit Talking about Sexuality in Canadian Communities.

To learn more about what consent is, and how to talk about it with your child, see Consent.

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:

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

This may be a good time to talk about contraception, like birth control and condoms. 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:

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

This may be a good time to talk about contraception, like birth control and condoms. 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 Additional 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.

 

Understanding Consent Video

For ages 12 and up.

 

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.

 

Tips for Discussing Sexual Health

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

 
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