The Birds and the Bees and Kids With LD
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By Ann Christen, M.A., M.F.T. , Kristin Stanberry
Consider Your Child's Learning Difficulties
Before talking to your child about sex, you'll want to consider ways to accommodate her learning difficulties. Questions to consider:
- Does my child's emotional and/or social development lag behind her physical development? If so, remember that while she may look like her peers, she may be less interested in - or accepting of - some of the "yucky" aspects of sex.
- Is my child able to understand abstract concepts? Some kids need information presented in very concrete, literal terms. Be sure to use real words - not cute terminology - when describing sex organs and their function. Be prepared for your kids to ask pointed questions. Ann Christen recalls her 13-year-old twin girls asking, "Mom, how old do you think we should be before we have sex?" Your child may need to be told certain facts repeatedly and require time to absorb the information.
- What is my child's preferred learning style? Is she a visual, auditory, or "hands on" learner? Try to find materials that match her preference. Avoid materials that might overwhelm her, such as a book that has too much text and art on each page. But to reinforce information, you'll want to engage all her senses. For example, you might talk about sex while drawing your own simple pictures to reinforce your explanation.
- Does my child struggle to pay attention? If she's easily distracted, be sure to find a quiet setting for your sex education sessions. Have her repeat back what you tell her. But, as Ms. Christen points out, kids with AD/HD can hyper-focus when they're really interested in a subject. So if they're curious about sex, you'll have an easier time holding their attention!
Finally, Ms. Christen recommends keeping discussions about bodily changes (such as during puberty) separate from conversations about sexual relations. This approach can maximize learning and minimize "information overload."
Sexually Active Teens: Reducing the Risk
There is much debate - and little conclusive research - about teenagers with learning problems being at greater risk for sexual activity. Fortunately, there are measures parents can take to minimize the risk of their kids becoming sexually active:
- Be familiar with your child's friends - and their parents. If you're concerned about what goes on in a home your child visits, talk with your child.
- Foster her self-esteem at all times. Help her accept her learning difficulties and celebrate her strengths. Feeling good about herself may help her resist unhealthy peer pressure.
- If your child has AD/HD and is prone to impulsive, risk-taking behavior, provide enough supervision and reinforcement to keep her from seeking gratification through inappropriate relationships.
Relax and Trust Yourself
When teaching your child about sex, don't expect to do a perfect job. You'll likely stumble and fumble at times. Because you have a child with learning problems, you know that parenting involves on-the-job training. So take it all in stride, and trust your ability to educate your child about the facts of life!