Education about maturation and issues about becoming an adult for people with disabilities may seem difficult or even unnecessary, but is critical to increase a person?s self-esteem, safety, and quality of life. This section will discuss the importance of education on these subjects and will offer resources for more in-depth discussions. Population: Any age or ability
Education about growing up, relationships, and interactions occurs on a daily basis. Television, movies, magazines, advertisements, observations, experiences, and conversations all play a role in this education. It can be difficult to make sense of this information and to understand how to act or not to act in response to what is being 'taught' informally.
It is important for everyone to have formal education about things all adults know, but it is especially important for those who have difficulty understanding and processing information. The risk of exploitation is higher for this group thus increasing the need for good education. The Disability Law Center of Salt Lake City, Utah estimates that people with disabilities are four to ten times more likely to be abused than the general population. In addition to being at an increased risk for abuse due to lack of education, being unprepared for adolescence has been linked to an increase in mental distress and problem behavior for all young people.
There is a misconception that providing education about adult matters, specifically sensitive information, promotes irresponsible behavior when in fact just the opposite has proven to be the case. Effective education needs to be lifelike, accurate, and fact based. A person cannot make good choices if they do not receive accurate and complete information in a manner that is understandable. Remember, education on adult issues happens all of the time. Formalizing education and using teachable moments can help the person make sense of what is seen and heard while increasing self-esteem and safety. Education is power and safety.
When and How to Teach
Attitude is much more important than information when it comes to matters of education about growing up. Parents and educators must be positive, matter-of-fact, and accepting. The saying ?take what you do seriously, but not yourself? is definitely the approach to take when providing this information. Learning about physical and emotional changes that occur when you grow up is a complex process that occurs gradually and usually without being aware of it.
The most effective way to teach this subject is the same as any other concept, e.g., in the context of the natural setting and optimally, when the child is very young. Teaching correct principles from the very beginning prevents problem behavior and unlearning and relearning in the future.
For example, you can teach many concepts relating to maturation in an ordinary interaction such as getting ready in the morning. Although it may be quicker to dress your child in the living room while you are supervising other children, you can teach about privacy if you take the time to go to the bedroom or bathroom and shut the door. If you ask permission before touching or helping (even though it is needed and expected) you will empower your child and give him or her ownership over his or her body thus increasing your child?s safety. If your child participates in the selection of their own clothes (possibly the night before) you build choice-making skills and self-esteem. Use correct terminology for body parts to avoid confusion and miscommunication in the future. Many parents avoid correct terminology in favor of slang words when in fact, these can cause confusion and complications. To illustrate, a teenage girl complained of pain ?down there? and, after many questions and a trip to the gynecologist, it was determined that she had a severe stomachache!
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