July Newsletter | Puberty and Beyond: Routines and Lessons for Sexuality Education

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Puberty and Beyond:

Routines and Lessons for Sexuality Education

Puberty is a challenging time for any young adult, and for students with autism or another developmental disability this transition period can be rife with confusion and uncertainty. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) advocates for the rights of all people to education about sexuality, sexual health care, and sexual expression.

This month’s newsletter includes first steps and resources for bringing effective sexuality education to students with special needs.  

Puberty and Preparation

Comprehensive sexuality education and training is essential to understanding the sexual development, behavior, and health care needs for individuals with disabilities. Furthermore, research has shown that students with intellectual and developmental disabilities typically do not have access to formal or informal sexuality education. 

Prior to delving into complex skills of relationships, dating, and the physical changes of puberty, it is important to remember that these skills build on a foundation of social skills from an early age.

Some important skills when entering puberty include:

Our new curriculum—Social Learning and Emotional Regulation (SOLER)—can help students build these key social and emotional skills! See the image to the right for an outline of curriculum content, and contact us to learn how SOLER can integrate into your school and budget.

"How-To" Basics

As puberty approaches, students need thoughtful, evidence-based instruction to help make sense of their changing bodies and feelings. SIECUS guidelines are helpful but can also appear overwhelming. They include human development, relationships, personal skills, sexual behavior, sexual health, and society and culture. Whew!

To get started, consider teaching a few “how-to” basics that can have high impact, such as hygiene routines. Links subscribers can access our Hygiene Visual Supports, which include powerful sequence strips and booklets for navigating routines including washing, using deodorant, and brushing teeth.

Visual supports can help students answer questions such as, “What am I supposed to do?” and “What happens next?” Use our menstrual pad and deodorant sequence strips for helpful tips and strategies.  

Public and Private

Differentiating between public and private behaviors and body parts is a critical skill for students transitioning into adolescence and young adulthood. Explaining that everyone has an invisible area around their bodies called personal space can be a fun way to start teaching skills that encompass boundaries and appropriate spaces. For example, use toy hula hoops or jump ropes to demonstrate the concept of personal space so students can practice with tangible items. Highlight behaviors that are public (e.g., going to a restaurant, doing homework, or riding the bus) and those that are private (e.g., getting dressed, taking a shower, or using the bathroom) and how to know the difference. Our public vs. private sorting activity can be a useful guide to teach socially appropriate behavior.

Be sure to listen to this month’s Autism Annex podcast episode as guest Amy Gravino talks about the physical and social sides of adolescence and relationships on the spectrum. For more information on puberty, sexuality education, and autism, revisit last season’s episode on comprehensive sexuality education in the special education classroom with Dr. Ruth Eyres.