Dangers of denying students with special needs sex education
Sex education is a frequently neglected area of instruction for students with disabilities, including those with developmental challenges. A recent appraisal of the situation reveals that educators have ignored exposing these classes of students to sexuality education just the same way that parents, and indeed the society have also overlooked this all-important aspect of their development. UJUNWA ATUEYI writes.
ONE of the most basic definitions of sex education is that it is an instruction on issues relating to human sexuality, including human sexual anatomy, sexual reproduction, sexual activities, reproductive health, emotional relations, reproductive rights and responsibilities, sexual abstinence and birth control.
It is usually offered to students through their parents, caregivers, schools, enlightenment programmes and public health campaigns, to enable them understand their body functions, feelings and relationships before attaining adolescence.
It also offers young people a better understanding of the society around them and enables them make informed choices in order to be safe.
Important as this aspect of growing up is, a recent check by The Guardian revealed that students with disabilities especially the deaf and blind students as well as others with special needs are disconnected from this kind of learning.
In fact, a visit to some schools for physically challenged students in Lagos State showed that little or no form of sex education goes on in the ones visited. The same scenario also held sway in most of their homes.
Analysts are of the opinion that the situation is this way because most parents, educators, professionals, government and the society at large have refused to acknowledge the fact that everyone, regardless of physical or mental abilities have sexual feelings, needs and desires, which if not well handled may lead to emotional torture and even much more dire consequences including death.
It is commonplace in the society to find out that these classes of students are, more often than not kept away from sexual and health sensitisation programmes organised by schools, corporate and non-governmental organisations.
In their online publication elucidating the importance of providing sexuality education to children with special needs, family support specialist at the Texas Deafblind Outreach, Kate Moss and teacher trainer, Robbie Blaha, maintained that parents and educators have a responsibility to meet the needs of the deaf and blind students in making them sexually competent, as they have a right to experience that important aspect of being human.
“We owe it to them to become knowledgeable about their needs in this area and to provide the support and instruction they require.
Parents must recognise that inappropriate sexual behaviour puts their children at great risk of failure in all areas of their lives. They must also acknowledge their children’s vulnerability in the world without becoming paralysed by fear. We believe that openness and communication are key to keeping children safe.
“Like the rest of us, people with deaf-blindness have the right to be sexual beings. It is part of who they are. Like the rest of us, they need information and guidance to be able to express their sexuality in socially, appropriate and safe ways.
As loving parents and caring professionals, we owe it to these children to provide quality sexuality education right from the start.”
They submitted further, “A deaf-blind child who is more social, who has good communication skills, and who does have a basic understanding of ‘rules,’ has an entirely different set of needs related to sexuality education.
These children will probably understand and seek out others as a source of sexual gratification and affection. They may be interested in having boyfriends or girlfriends.
They may want to date, have intercourse, marry, have children, and so forth. “Their sexuality is one area that they definitely have in common with their non-disabled peers. These children and young adults need the kind of sexuality education that their non deaf-blind peers experience,” they submitted.
Proprietress of Do-Estdot Group of Schools, Idimu, (a school for the hearing and hearing-impaired), Mrs. Esther Ogunbayo, could not agree less with the duo, insisting that parents have a huge role to play in giving sexuality education, which she stressed, must necessarily start from home.
“But to achieve this, parents must know the sign language, and majority of them do not know sign language and are not willing to learn. How then can you communicate with your child if you are not versed in sign language? These special needs children are in lack of so many things and some parents are not willing to help in providing useful advice to them.
“Usually, parents are meant to be their children’s companions, children on the other hand should be able to confide in their parents, but how can a child with hearing impairment achieve this intimacy when parents do not know how to communicate with sign language? Even in the larger society, there are very few people that know how to communicate with sign language.
Having said that, it is important for sex education to start from home as the school is just complementing parents’ efforts. But where parents cannot provide useful advice to their children, it remains a big burden to the school and the society.
“These special needs children easily accept people who can sign for them, and once you can do that, you will automatically become their second mother or companion.
In all of these, we are just talking about the ones that are in school. But what of those that are not in school? We need to reawaken the consciousness of parents and let them realise that there is ability in disability,” she said.
Commenting on the extent, which the school goes to in exposing the students to sex education, she said, “We don’t really go deeply into it because these children are so smart, and if you go very deep, you may see them wanting to experiment. However, parents need to learn sign language and devote enough time to their children.”
Principal of the school, Mr. Adeyemi Adebisi, informed that through enlightenment programmes, the school sometimes expose all the students to topics related to sex education in a manner that makes meaning to them. .
“We have our own way of teaching the hearing impaired, and whatever we say, interpreters are always on hand interpreting to them to enable them get the message. More than that, what we do mainly for the hearing impaired is monitoring, because their physical challenge makes them tend to develop complex.
“They want to feel accepted and before you know it, some of them start imagining things. They use sign language to discuss issues of sex, relationship and marriage. Some years back, we had an issue where two deaf students where discussing and mentioning the private part of a man, what they do with it, and the size.
And one of them was expressing how she likes male teachers. These were things on her inner mind that she was expressing to someone else. So, this shows all of us that they have feelings like all of us and need to be guided.
The situation is this way because most parents, educators, professionals, government and the society at large have refused to acknowledge the fact that everyone, regardless of physical or mental abilities have sexual feelings, needs and desires, which if not well handled may lead to emotional torture and even much more dire consequences including death.
“However, we were taken aback by that act, and we made our investigation and discovered that even in her house, she has been keeping a sexual relationship unnoticed.
Her parents even confessed that she had certain behaviours they could not define. So, both the government and the society need to see these children as part of us.
As we make policies for every other person in the society, special needs students also need policy structures suitable for their needs.”
To engage such students in sex education, Adebisi advised, “We should start with enlightenment on the use of sign language in our society. If you know the number that these people (children with special needs) constitute in our society you will know that it is a significant number that cannot be ignored.
If Hausa and Yoruba languages are taught in schools and in the media, sign language can also be taught to help in communicating with them.
“Because not all of these people have the opportunity of being in school, sex education should not be limited to only those that are in school; those that do not have the opportunity of being in school should not be disregarded.
That is why at times, sex education is limiting when attention is focused only on schools. Getting the right values taught to anybody, anywhere is key to achieving the desired results.”
For the Principal, Wesley School for the Hearing Impaired, Surulere, Mr. Solomon Abbey, teachers do their bit to bring such to the notice of the children during their lessons in subjects like social studies, “but we do not go beyond that.” He said, “The school has put in place programmes that seeks to teach parents sign language because we have discovered that the major problem with hearing impaired children is communication.
These are children who are not able to communicate verbally and so have resorted to the use of sign language, and the sign language is such that those of us who are trained in teaching them can use effectively, but parents have to make an effort to learn the sign.
“Every second Thursday of the month, we urge parents to come, before our usual parents-teachers forum. We freely teach sign language to them. But very few of the parents are available, you know the Lagos situation, they have one excuse or the other about personal or business engagements so as to earn a living. So, the number that attend is not encouraging, but we always do our best to teach the children.”
He added that sexuality education remains of great importance to every adolescent child even before they attain that stage of life, whether the child is hearing impaired or not.
“As teachers, we are aware of things every child ought to know for their proper adjustment in the society, but everything we do here is being regulated. We work with the Lagos State school curriculum.” For the Principal of Pacelli School for the Blind & Partially Sighted Children, Sister Jane Onyeneri, sex education is very important in every individual’s life.
But it is disheartening to know that parents and some schools do not help children in that regard, especially those with disabilities.
“But here, through the ‘Daily Living Skills,’ we teach our students sexuality education because it is very important before they start discussing boy/girl friends. We teach them how to handle their feelings, take shower; take care of their eyes and then mobility.
“We don’t know how much parents do at home, but we put in great effort to ensure that they have information that would guide their future. We are asking government to step up and support us because maintenance of blind students is very expensive. We learnt government has a budget for the disabled, but it doesn’t get to us.
It is a big shame that we are helping the government to educate Nigerian students, yet we do not receive support.” Noting that Nigerian culture does not support such teaching and training, Onyeneri urged all stakeholders to offer sex education to children owing to its benefits.