Student Well-Being

Sex Education and Students with Disabilities

By Christina A. Samuels — August 04, 2008 1 min read

The state of sex education for students with developmental disabilities is a story idea that’s been on my plate for ages, and I now may have a good “hook:"

Researchers in Philadelphia have tracked rates of treatment of sexually transmitted infections among more than 50,000 Medicaid*-eligible 12- to 17-year-olds, including about 8,000 receiving special education services, in the Philadelphia school district. In Philadelphia, unlike in many districts, students who are gifted are also provided with an individualized education program, and thus were included in this count.

The study found:

For males, being classified as [learning disabled] was associated with a 36% increase in the odds of having an STI. Latinos, whites, and those in the "other" ethnicity category (OR = 1.79) were at increased risk compared with African-Americans. For females, being classified as [mentally retarded] was associated with a 37% increase in the odds of having an STI and being classified as [mentally gifted] was associated with a 10% increase in odds. Again, those in the white and "other" ethnicity category were at increased risk relative to African-American females. Asian females had one third the odds of being diagnosed with an STI compared with African-American females. Unlike among males, older age was associated with increased risk for an STI among females.

(The study was released in the July edition of the Journal for School Health, published by the American School Health Association.)

What does it all mean? The researchers concluded that it means, in part, that sex education classes need to be particularly sensitive to the “social vulnerabilities” of this group of students. I wonder how often this kind of discussion comes up during IEP meetings. It’s uncomfortable for some parents, and probably equally as uncomfortable for some school officials. And, as the researchers conclude:

Often, special education students are not given the option to participate in health or sex education programs in the schools, and when they are, the materials are not always appropriate to their needs. A small number of sexual health education programs have been developed specifically for students with special needs, but they have not been rigorously evaluated and are not widely used.

Is this an area that where you feel schools and parents could do a better job?

*Correction: my earlier post said “Medicare” instead of “Medicaid.” Medicaid is the nation’s health insurance program for people of low income; Medicare provides health care services to people aged 65 and over.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.