Your Body, Your Boundaries: Teaching Sexual Health

Special Needs Body Boundaries

Individuals with disabilities are 7 times more likely to be victims of sexual assault, yet they typically are not taught about their bodies nor boundaries for themselves and others. How can we begin these much needed conversations?

On the show today, to help us navigate this space, is Katie Thune. Katie is an educator, author, and advocate for people with disabilities. She has her Teaching License in Health Education, and Special Education K – 12, as well as her MA in Education. Katie worked as a teacher for Saint Paul Public Schools for 12 years. She has done extensive curriculum writing on relationships and sexuality education. This can be found, along with other resources, on the website sexualityforallabilities.com  

In this episode, Katie shares some foundational things we can be teaching our loved one such as consent, rules, and guidelines around some of the grey areas, public vs private spaces, compliance vs appropriate non compliance, and necessary vs exploitive touch. 

Mentioned in This Episode:

  • Katie was a middle school health teacher and during the sex ed curriculum, seven special education students came forward to report sexual abuse, specifically after learning about necessary touch vs exploitative touch. Katie was horrified and began research where she learned individuals with disabilities are 7x more likely to become victims of sexual assault. This propelled her to create a sex ed curriculum for the special needs community.

  • Katie was a part of the follow up interviews in the NPR series, Abused and Betrayed, which highlighted the abuse epidemic in the disability community.

  • Katie teaches the mantra, “My Body Belongs to Me”. Even with personal care, permission and/or explanation should still be a part of the process. In fact, this is the perfect time to practice appropriate touch vs exploitative touch as well as learned compliance vs appropriate non compliance. If they do not have the words to say yes or no, then use this time to figure out how to give them the voice to advocate for themselves and in some way communicate their care preferences..

  • Katies shares examples of ways to move from learned compliance to appropriate non compliance such as offering choice, similar to what we discussed in episode #69, Self Determination with Complex Communication Needs.

  • Putting rules around touch helps with some of the grey areas around what could be a yes and what should be a no. Rules around public and private spaces are also helpful. Katie teaches a private place belongs to you when you are alone and people can not see you. 

  • The tough thing about rules is they change. For example hugging in elementary school may be okay but hugging in the work place may not be okay.

  • One way Katie helps teach and practice appropriate boundaries is with a flip book that teaches okay/not okay, who, what, and where. 

  • Many individuals with disabilities are in loving and committed relationships. Katie has several tools and resources she uses to help teach what healthy relationships look like. Sign up for the sexuality for all abilities newsletter for a pdf of one of these resources as well as frequent information and tools. Sexuality for All Abilities also has a facebook page and youtube channel.

Related Content:

Episode 69: Self Determination with Complex Communication Needs with guest Karrie Shogren, PhD.

Episode 66: Advocating Against the Sexual Assault Epidemic with guest Julie Neward of Natalie’s Voice

Episode 44: Sexual Assault Risk Reduction with guest Nora Baladerian, PhD, director of the Disability and Abuse Project

This show is part of a 12 episode health series in season 3