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dina digregorio karlon

Why Sexuality Education For People With Developmental Disabilities Is So Important

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Dina DiGregorio Karlon, M.A.
Transition Specialist, NESCA

Sexuality is something that connects all humans throughout the lifespan. We, as parents, want to see our children as forever young and protect them. For many parents it is extremely difficult to consider our children as sexual beings. Add the complexity of having a child with a developmental disability, and it appears even more challenging; yet ironically, it is even more important. Here are some reasons why:

People with developmental disabilities are not children. While many people believe that children with disabilities are childlike and dependent on others, their humanity and independence should be respected. They have desires and needs similar to others. They deserve to have access to information which will help the make good choices and have healthy relationships.

Sexual education should be taught according to one’s biological age, not cognitive age. Most children with disabilities experience physical changes (i.e., puberty) at the same time as their neurotypical peers. Therefore, sexuality education should be given to them at similar times as peers, but the delivery needs to be the different – one which allows them to access the information.

Sexual education is a protective factor. Educating people with disabilities about sexuality is a protective factor for them, because it provides the knowledge they need to protect themselves against sexual crimes, unprotected sex, unwanted pregnancies and unhealthy relationships. Information is power.

Understanding sexuality will not encourage your children to have sex. Giving individuals with developmental disabilities sexuality education will not put the idea to embark on sexual explorations in their heads. Giving them access to sexuality education gives them information and ultimately the power to make educated choices about their bodies.

People with disabilities are significantly more likely to be a victim of a sexual or violent crime than their non-disabled peers. Understanding consent and sexual advocacy empowers people to protect themselves from being the predator or the prey by learning about concepts, such as, “my body, my choice” and “no means no.”

Much of the general population learns about sexuality and relationships from friends. This means that some of the information they receive about sexuality is not always accurate. People with disabilities may not have as many friendships as their peers without disabilities. Those with developmental disabilities tend to be more isolated, so they do not have the opportunity to learn from friends. Often, they learn about sexuality information from parents and television. Another concern is the ease with which the internet provides sexual information. Access to pornography and posting pictures can be confusing to a person with a disability who doesn’t understand the legal, privacy and employment implications, putting them at even greater risk. So, as parents, it’s very important to give accurate information or seek out professionals who can work with your child.

Sexuality education does not teach sexual values. Parents are the ones who should be teaching their children with and without disabilities about their values around sex. Sexuality education focuses on teaching accurate information in a format that students can access and understand. It is then incumbent upon those students to develop their own values.

Because of the nature of some disabilities, picking up on social cues is challenging. So much of relationships is understanding verbal and non-verbal social cues, so many people with disabilities can struggle with identifying healthy relationships. It makes it easier for others to take advantage of them, instead of enjoying a relationship with both partners on equal footing. Therefore, it is important to teach social skills as part of sexuality education.

There are common universal values:

  1. It is important to respect others by treating them well and listening to them.
  2. It is important to get consent from a partner before being sexual with them.
  3. Relationships should be equal and positive without violence or abuse.

When discussing sex with your children, it’s okay not to have all the answers and to ask for a pause, take a break or a deep breath, and return later with more information. There are always plenty of opportunities for teachable moments. We know that people with disabilities can take in a great deal of information, and sexuality education is critical information to have healthy, sexual relationships. So, while we hate to see our children grow up, we all want the same things – to see them be happy and belong in an appropriate and respectful, safe way.

NESCA has personnel trained to provide sexuality education training to parents and to teens and young adults with disabilities. Training can be done one-on-one or in a group. If you are interested in learning more, contact Dina DiGregorio Karlon at (603)818-8526 to set up a consultation.

 

Reference:

Elevatus Training: GULP! Talking with Your Kids About Sexuality Newsletter, Volume 4, Number 1, May 2003

 

About the Author: 

Dina DiGregorio Karlon, M.A., is a seasoned counselor who has worked as both a school counselor and vocational rehabilitation counselor, guiding and coaching students and adults through transitions toward independence in both college and the working world. With NESCA, she offers transition assessment services in Londonderry, New Hampshire as well as transition planning consultation and coaching to students and families throughout New England.

 

To book Transition Services at NESCA or an evaluation with one of our expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. To book Transition Services in N.H., ask for Dina Karlon. 

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Interview with Dina DiGregorio Karlon, NESCA North Transition Specialist

By | NESCA Notes 2019

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services, NESCA

 

What are Transition Services?

Transition means the process of moving from one life stage to another. In context to NESCA, we are referring to the transition from high school to post-secondary life, and we specialize in working with nontraditional students who often have had accommodations or special education services. While the prospect of leaving high school is exciting, it can be overwhelming as well. The prospect of figuring out what you want to do with your life causes some level of anxiety in all of us; transition services helps to relieve this anxiety by working with individuals in setting short and long term goals and participating in guidance and psychoeducation related to college and/or employment.

How did you get interested in this field?

Helping people understand their strengths and weaknesses while exploring their vision for adulthood is my passion. Upon reflection, I believe that I have always been a transition specialist, long before there was a name for this work. Having worked with adolescents and young adults for more than 25 years, I understand the demands and expectations placed on them and how that can be daunting. Helping people to recognize that their path may be different than they expected is very rewarding, and I do not take that responsibility lightly.

What do you like about your job?

I particularly enjoy working with adolescents and families through the college process; while the process is not difficult to understand, it is time-consuming and can often feel overwhelming. I enjoy assisting students and helping them to accomplish new tasks. I love to help people identify their strengths and use those to minimize and overcome their challenges. Being able to assist people in setting their own personal goals and achieve them is very gratifying to me. Getting to know new people, teaching important skills, presenting a different perspective, piecing together a plan; these are all things I love about the work I do.

Do you have a specialty? What do you specialize in?

I specialize in both college and career counseling. I am experienced in working with high school students as well as young adults.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I particularly enjoy working with adolescents and families through the college process; while the process is not difficult to understand, it is time-consuming and can often feel overwhelming. I enjoy assisting students and helping them to accomplish new tasks. I love to help people identify their strengths and use those to minimize and overcome their challenges. Being able to assist people in setting their own personal goals and achieve them is very gratifying to me. Getting to know new people, teaching important skills, presenting a different perspective, piecing together a plan; these are all things I love about the work I do.

What brought you to NESCA?

My experience as a school counselor and a vocational rehabilitation counselor have given me a unique skill set and provide me with the experience needed to do transition planning for students who are college bound and also students or adults who are seeking employment or support with career exploration. My passion for working with adolescents and helping them maneuver the challenges of early adulthood matches the philosophy of NESCA and I am eager to work as part of a team of specialists providing this support to young people.

What are you most looking forward to about working full-time at NESCA?

I am excited to work with adolescents to help them with the journey into adulthood. The variety of clients and their needs at NESCA is a real draw for me. Whether my work takes me to teaching a teenager how to do laundry, practicing interviewing for a first job or new school, or identifying a college list, it all sounds challenging and rewarding to me.

Who are your favorite students/clients to work with?

I have a lot of expertise in working with all kinds of students. I have worked with students who have been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD/ADHD, mental health disorders, and other profiles. With the myriad of clients I worked with at Vocational Rehabilitation, I have developed a solid understanding of many diagnoses and disabilities and how clients’ lives are impacted by the related challenges. I have often worked with students who face multiple barriers; seeing those students work through their challenges and develop resiliency is professionally rewarding.

What advice do you have for parents or young adults who are not sure if they need a transition specialist?

Working with a transition specialist can be very helpful for parents to understand what their children’s strengths and weaknesses are in relation to adult-readiness. Are they ready for a 4-year college? Do they need a gap year? What would that look like? Do they know how to interview for a job? Do they need help getting a job? Do they know what kind of job fits their skills? Do they know to self-advocate? Do they know how to access resources?

Teenagers will often not work with their parents to do goal setting and transition planning, so having a transition expert to work with can often help. Working with a transition specialist can also be a great step toward a student taking ownership of their future planning and a parent releasing some control and responsibility. Most teenagers or young adults would benefit from doing transition planning; but it is a highly personal family decision as to whether to work with a transition specialist.

If you are not sure if you need a transition specialist, you can always come in for a consultation appointment. This is a one-hour meeting that helps a family determine if this is the right time to work with a transition specialist and what type of transition service may be best. For example, does the family need assessment and a report for an IEP process or just help with appropriate college planning? Talking things through with a transition expert can be extremely helpful for knowing what is needed and when.

We are very excited to announce that as of February 1, 2019, Ms. Karlon is working as a full-time staff member delivering assessment services in the state of New Hampshire and college and career coaching services to clients throughout New England! NESCA is thrilled to be able to offer these expanded transition services in our New Hampshire Office in addition to the services we already offer in Newton, MA.

To schedule an appointment with Dina DiGregorio Karlon in Londonderry, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/  The address of NESCA-North is 75 Gilcreast Rd #305, Londonderry, NH 03053.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.