By Abigail Karlin-Resnick, executive director of Teen Talk.
California's education code mandates that school sexual health education programs be appropriate to students of all ability levels. Yet young people with disabilities are chronically underserved where sexual health education is concerned.
According to research published in the Journal for School Health, special education students are often not given the option to participate in sex education classes — and when they are, the materials are not always presented in a manner appropriate to the students' needs (Mandell et al., 2008).
This disparity is particularly problematic given that students with disabilities often face unique issues with regards to personal boundaries and communication.
In recent years, Teen Talk has begun working more closely with local schools to ensure that the sexual health education needs of all students — including those with disabilities — are met. During the 2012-2013 school year, Teen Talk served 103 non-mainstreamed special education students in the Sequoia Union High School District.
Based on positive feedback from students and teachers alike, Teen Talk is now in the process of developing a comprehensive sexual health curriculum designed specifically for students with special needs. This new curriculum is intended to help students think critically about their values and sexual health decisions while also meeting them at their level.
"As a teacher of students with learning challenges, I see first-hand how essential the Teen Talk program is for this population," says Scott Kirk, a special education teacher at Menlo-Atherton High School. "Many of our students have had exposure to programs and content in their middle school years, but this knowledge fails to reach them at the level at which they need to hear it.
"The Teen Talk team helps my students feel comfortable to ask uncomfortable but important questions, engage in discussions, and participate in lessons that provide them with critical knowledge about risky behavior and how to make more positive decisions."
Students know they've grown from the program, too. "When you first started teaching us, I was so shy to talk about this," wrote one special education student in a thank you note to her Teen Talk educators. "I'm more mature now, thanks to you."
teentalkca.org | Teen Talk, 480 James Ave., Redwood City, CA 94062 | (650) 367-1937 |