Disability, sex education and language part 2.

Last week, I spoke about how to reference disability during sex education and to include the invisible disabilities in the room. Today I want to talk about sex education with students who we know are disabled – who may, in fact, be in the group because they are disabled.

Targeted sessions for sex education can be really valid and important. There is, as always, the argument to be made that exclusion is never really inclusion. However offering a space that includes only those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities – young people who fit in to this category know who they are.

The difficulty can be that young people with SEND are often slotted in to that category for a number of reasons – some may have physical disabilities, some may have learning disabilities and there is a high proportion of young people who will straddle both camps.

This means that the language that we use may be different for these groups than “mainstream” groups. There is a danger that some students with physical disabilities who are otherwise developmentally typical may find language designed to be clear and simplistic patronising. This can be avoided by making sure that you explain that you don’t want to assume what anyone in the group knows, and that you want everyone to understand.

That being said, for young people who are at a level of learning (or perhaps language understanding) significantly below their peers – for example working at pre-entry or entry level – it may be considered more appropriate to run a session for this group separately to allow content to be more visual than verbal.

It’s important when introducing topics around sexual health and sexual relationships that we offer all young people the same chance at an extensive vocabulary. For some learners, a visual or adapted definition may also be needed, but penis, testicles, vulva, vagina, breasts and anus are all medical terms and all young people deserve the power of being able to use them.

Concepts such as consent, porn, rape and sexual assault are also important for all young people. As educators we sometimes worry about how to check understanding but there are visuals that can help. Makaton and widgit both often symbol packs that can help, and Easy on the I via NHS Leeds offers symbols that could be helpful in breaking down some more challenging concepts.

Even if it is a challenge, all young people deserve access to sex education, and the time taken to explain and cement these concepts shouldn’t be a reason to avoid doing this. The benefit these young people will get is always worth the time taken.

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