Adult Intimacy

Teach Boundaries

Teach boundaries early on as a matter of course during interactions. Remember, for example, it might be ?cute? for your four-year-old to hug the stranger in line at the grocery store, or to say hello indiscriminately when in public, but not so when he or she grows up.

Teach age appropriate concepts and adapt them to the person's level of understanding. The parent that says 'my son is 27, but really he is only 3 years old' is setting the son up for difficulties. If a person is continually referred to as a child, for example, the person may in fact see themself as a child and seek out other children as their peer group and limit their actions to other child-like activities. But, if the person is referred to by his chronological age, he may be more inclined to find activities and friends in his age group. His abilities, interests, and opportunities will grow and surprise even the most skeptical parent or professional.

Teaching Adolescents

Young people can be prepared for puberty before and as bodily changes occur. Adding new hygiene products just before they are necessary is appropriate. Pointing out subtle differences in an adult's body and their body in a matter-of-fact way gives the young man or woman something to look forward to rather than to be afraid of when it comes without preparation.

Menstruation can be the most dreaded time for young women, parents and caregivers. There may be a tendency to have the period stopped before it even begins through chemical or surgical means. With so many options to help a woman manage her menses, there should be no urgency to stop what Mother Nature has intended. If a girl can care for her toileting needs, she will generally be able to learn to care for her menses. Practice placing a pad in her underwear and letting her wear it to see what it will feel like before she actually needs one; this will relieve anxiety. Role play with the young lady the event of seeing blood when toileting and using the underwear with the pads to help with the process. There are many over the counter and natural remedies, and seasonal and low-dose birth control pills to help manage difficult periods. Chemical menses cessation should be a last resort due to long-term effects, and sterilization is not always an option. Seek help from a specialist to determine what is normal and best based on individualized circumstances.

Young men, too, need help understanding what changes will occur in their bodies. Wet dreams and self-stimulation need to be addressed in a neutral, matter-of-fact way. Remember the typical stages of development for this age and what is normal for every man.


Formal education on growing up, relationships, interactions, emotions, etc. may not always be available for special education students in the public school system. Some social service agencies offer education classes to the public, or Planned Parenthood may offer this type of class. When looking for a good program, look for one that takes a whole-person approach, is accurate, fact-based, and can be individualized.

Understanding the physical and emotional aspects of adulthood is critical for personal happiness and increased self-esteem. This includes finding out what it means to be a boy or a girl, knowing about the changes of puberty for both genders, finding out that you are just like everyone else, learning about how you were started, discovering dreams and expectations for your life, etc.
It is important to remember that while a disability may be a part of a person, it is not who the person is. In the face of challenges, the ultimate goal is to instill a positive sense of self and to build self-esteem for a person with disabilities and to focus on similarities and what is typical for all people.

Inappropriate Behavior

Lack of education and boredom are the leading causes of inappropriate behavior in matters of adult intimacy. Inappropriate behavior should be redirected in a neutral, matter-of-fact way. Tell the person what is wrong and why (fact based, not guilt based) and then tell the person what they can do. For example, if a young man starts handling his ?special? body parts in public, telling him ?nice people don?t do things like that? confuses him and gives him the message that he is not a nice person. Whereas a statement such as ?this is a public place, you can only touch your ?special? parts in a place that is private? gives the young man correct information and the appropriate way to act in a specific situation. Further education might also be provided after the incident has been resolved.

For problem behavior that cannot be easily redirected, an assessment might be necessary to identify the cause of the problem. Inappropriate behavior may be the result of such things as current or past abuse, medical conditions, medication side effects, learning history, etc. Be very careful of labels that might identify a person as a ?perpetrator,? ?deviant,? ?offender,? etc., without a complete assessment. Remember, lack of education and boredom are the leading causes of inappropriate behavior.


Again, people with disabilities are at greater risk of abuse than the typical population. Because education is power, it is critical that education in abuse is included in education about all issues of growing up and adult behavior. When taught about abuse, many students have asked, 'you mean that was wrong?!' 'You mean I could have said no?!', 'You mean I didn't have to do that?!'

There have been many reports on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of ?stranger danger.? The Salt Lake Tribune in August 2005 reported that stranger danger may be poor advice since most abusers and abductors are known to the person or parent. A person should be taught to say ?no? in situations that do not feel comfortable, no matter who is involved. A person needs to be given ownership over his or her body and allowed to say ?no? to unwanted touch no matter how innocent it may be. Different types of touching can be taught, e.g. good, bad, and secret. In addition, each person should be taught what a ?safe? person is and who can be a 'safe' person should there be a need to report situations or touching that are confusing or upsetting.

Parents and professionals must be observant and watch for atypical behavior. Signs of abuse may include skill loss such as toileting, dressing, or eating; or changes in socialization such as loss of attention, hyperactivity, or inability to trust, nightmares, etc. Watch and listen with eyes and ears, and be prepared to find out what the person is trying to tell you by their words or actions.

In Conclusion

Maturation should be fostered, encouraged, and celebrated! Healthy gender identification and self-esteem opens doors, gives way to dreams, and makes life worth living for people of all abilities. There is no ?them? only ?us? and we are all a part of humanity.


Used for this section:

  • Doing What Comes Naturally? by O. Anderson (High Tide Press, 2000)
  • A Touching Book., by J. Hindman (AlexAndria Associates, 1992).
  • **Socialization and S?,** by W. Kempton, (McGowan Publications, 1998)
  • **All About S?: A Family Resource on S? and S?**, by Planned Parenthood (Three Rivers Press, 1997)
  • Your Sons and Daughters With Intellectual Disabilities, by K. Schwier, K. and D. Hingsburger (Brookes, 2000)
  • Other resources:
  • **Choosing Relationships: S? Education for People of All Abilities**
  • The Arc of the United States
  • **S? Information and Education Council of the United States**
  • Developing Personal Safety Skills in Children With Disabilities, by F. Briggs (Brookes, 1995)
  • A Treasure Chest of Behavioral Strategies for Individuals With Autism, by B. Fouse and M. Wheeler (Future Horizons, Inc. 1997)
  • Just Say Know! By D. Hingsburger (Diverse City Press, 1995)
  • Adolescents With Down Syndrome, by S.M. Pueschel and M. Sustrova (Brookes: 1997)
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