After more than two years of researching sex education teaching materials for cognitively impaired students, Thornapple Kellogg School District will put in place a new reproductive health program this fall.
Keeping special education students safe is the top reason for creating the new type of class, said Kim Chausow, director of curriculum at Thornapple Kellogg.
♥Cognitively impaired students have higher numbers of getting involved in unsafe sexual situations and experience abuse at much higher rates than people without disabilities, she said.
Megan Roon, the school district’s social worker, said students are finding ways to view pornography and share inappropriate pictures and information about themselves.
“Those with neurological difficulties can be talked into dangerous situations because they do not comprehend the dangers and just want to be someone’s friend,” Roon said.
“There are staggering statistics about students with neurological disorders who have been or are being sexually abused due to lack of understanding.”
Parents Sought Help Teaching Sex Ed
The parental reaction to the new curriculum has been positive, Roon said. “Parents often say ‘thank you’ and appear relieved that the school will be aiding them in the discussions,” she said. Several parents have asked TK schools how to talk to their son or daughter about maturation and sexual development.
Increased Risk of Sexual Harm
People with an intellectual disability experience all forms of abuse, including sexual abuse, at higher rates than the rest of the population. Some of the reasons for this increased risk include:
Source: U.S. Department of Education
“Parents begged us to do more,” Chausow said. “They don’t know how to talk to kids about sex. It’s hard enough with a typical kid.”
Searching for Resources
Chausow looked for information from other Kent ISD schools to create the new curriculum, but found only a few were teaching it, she said, and none the way TK wanted to. More individualized teaching tailored to each students’ needs was the main goal.
Working with Grand Valley State University, they found the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council book, “Sexuality Across the Lifespan.” It will be used along with other sources.
Teachers, school personnel and others in the education field in Michigan and across the nation agree there is not enough sexual education material available for special ed students, said Laurie Bechhofer, a consultant for the Michigan Department of Education.
“School districts across Michigan recognize special education students also need quality reproductive health and sex education programs, and often those programs need to be adapted or tailored to meet their needs,” she said.
“These students have significant needs in this area, and yet there is a lack of curricular resources available nationally to address the needs.”
Although students may have developmental levels much younger than their chronological age, they continue to develop, have hormonal changes and feelings throughout life. Previously, TK had all general education students as well as students with disabilities use the general education curriculum and participate in the “Willing to Wait Curriculum and Program,” but its content was “too over the heads” of students, Chausow said.
The new class will cover when, where and what’s OK in regard to sexual subjects. Changes in the body, social skills between sexes, dating and abuse also will be covered.
In the fall, a parent meeting will be held to explain the new curriculum that will be used for middle and high school students. Parents will be able to opt out of the new class and have their child use the “Willing to Wait” curriculum, Roon said.
The program is a work in progress, she noted.
“This will be our first year, and we will continue to develop and adapt as new situations arise,” she said.