Individuals with intellectual disabilities have the right to live as independently as possible in a manner consistent with their community. The book Teaching Children With Down Syndrome About Their Bodies, Boundaries, and Sexuality, by Teri Couwenhoven, discusses sexuality as a vital and complex physiological, biological, and social part of the human experience. However, historically, the topic has been difficult for parents and educators to properly address. Identifying the components as well as when specific concepts should be taught, the techniques and strategies to be used, and the individuals responsible for providing the instruction are often overlooked by parents and professionals. Couwenhoven's book serves as a practical guide for those who have made the decision to promote the sexual health of persons with Down syndrome.
The book is organized in chapters that address specific issues of sexuality related to body changes, exploitation prevention, privacy awareness, relationships, and social skills, rather than in a developmental sequence. The introduction and first chapter provide essential information concerning sexuality as well as a tutorial on how to use the book. The author uses symbols to encourage parents to stop reading to reflect on their values, opinions, and attitudes regarding issues in each chapter. This feature promotes the development of a curriculum consistent with family and community. Numerous teaching activities suggested throughout the book help readers teach vital skills. Some of the recommended activities can be used along with several diagrams and materials in the appendices. Although it is clear that the target audience is parents, professionals may find the book useful for developing components of individual education plans (IEPs) that address sexuality education.
Chapter 2 focuses on teaching basic anatomy. The author emphasizes the importance of talking openly about all body parts and using correct (i.e., medical) terms for parts of the body to establish open and comfortable communication. In addition, the author highlights activities to establish increased self-care skills. Chapter 3 provides a useful troubleshooting guide for eliminating public disrobing as well as numerous activities to help parents and professionals design a curriculum for teaching aspects of privacy.
Chapter 4 explains the importance of nurture and affection in infancy and early childhood, underscores the importance of teaching differences in acceptable and unacceptable physical interactions, and ensures that sensory and social needs are sufficiently met. A guide to identify key aspects of inappropriate physical interactions and potential strategies to address these behaviors are provided.
Chapters 5 and 6 are dedicated to physiological and biological changes associated with puberty and adolescence. Chapter 5 can be particularly useful to parents and professionals as they work with students entering puberty. The author separates and addresses the various physical changes specific to gender and uses language that the layperson can easily understand. Significant information is presented to help parents and professionals deal with sexual responses, menstruation, and physical health examinations. Chapter 6 deals directly with masturbation. Clear differences between exploration in infants, toddlers, and young children and masturbation in adolescents and adults are presented along with answers to common questions about masturbation.
Sexuality education is not solely about physical development or sexual behaviors. Sexuality is more about identity, independence, relationships, and socialization. Chapters 7–11 emphasize these core and complex aspects of sexuality. Chapter 7 deals with social and emotional development in adolescents, reminding parents of the importance of promoting self-determination and increasing independence. Topics dealing with identity are covered; however, the issue of gay and lesbian sexual identity is only briefly addressed. With this exception, the book the generally adopts a heterosexual point of view on adolescent and adult sexuality. Chapter 8 explores social aspects of life as they relate to self-care, grooming, and appearance. Numerous activities for building essential social skills to promote healthy relationships across the lifespan are presented in Chapter 9. Chapter 10 deals with relationships, including friendships and dating, leading to discussion of committed partnerships, marriage, and parenthood in Chapter 11.
Preventing the sexual exploitation of persons with disabilities is one support for sexuality education that few would argue against. Chapter 12 addresses exploitation prevention as well as recognizing and responding to sexual abuse. Couwenhoven also discusses the effects of abuse and how to aid victim recovery. Education professionals will find the discussion of legal issues, types of sexuality education, and a table comparing characteristics of sex education for students with and without intellectual disabilities in Chapter 13 useful. Chapter 14 outlines models and strategies for dealing with inappropriate or dangerous sexual behaviors that require urgent intervention.
Teaching Children With Down Syndrome About Their Bodies, Boundaries, and Sexuality is a resource that many parents and educators of children with Down syndrome will find useful. However, others may find the book useful because the issues covered and strategies shared are consistent with sexuality education for individuals with intellectual disabilities. This resource aids in sexuality education curriculum development but may need to be augmented to ensure diverse representation of families and sexual orientation.