A still from our video (which appears lower on this page) about our sexual healt

Teaching young people about sex and relationships always has its challenges. This is even more true when the young people concerned have learning difficulties. 

It’s hardly surprising that for some teachers and professionals working with children with special needs, sex and relationships is often the first area of learning to be dropped from a timetable. 

Our sexual health project is trying to change this. Please watch our video about the project.

Sex education is lacking

Research in to sex education for disabled young people has shown it to be patchy across the country. In some cases this is due to the mistaken belief that disabled young people do not have the ability to enter into relationships.

In others, there is a concern that talking about it will encourage inappropriate sexual contact. In fact, effective sex and relationships education (SRE) helps to protect young people - by increasing their ability to recognise sexual abuse, for example. 

Currently there is only limited statutory requirement to teach young people about relationships or sexuality, so SRE is significantly dependent on the culture of the learning environment and on whether staff have the relevant skills. 

Many teachers recognise its importance for disabled children, but admit to lacking the confidence to deliver it effectively. Resources available are not always used well and more work needs to be done to promote its importance and the broad range of topics that can fall within SRE.  

So where do you start?

Basic life skills are fundamental to good SRE. Young people need to be able to make decisions, know how to give their consent and assert their needs. 

Covering key topics such as self-image, emotions and the body are essential to laying the foundations for subjects like public and private space, relationships, sexuality, being healthy, puberty, pregnancy, staying safe, STIs and contraception. 

It’s a good idea to invite parents to a meeting to discuss the areas being covered. Once parents see that it’s not just about sex, they are usually more willing to engage. Parents and staff can work together to create a programme of work that meets the needs of young people, helping to keep them safe and avoiding crisis point. 

It’s important to use the right communication. Decide on what language, symbols and signs to use, and stick with them. Young people with learning difficulties might need repetition and reinforcement on a regular basis; checking that they have really understood is more important than trying to cover everything in a set period of time. There will be times when things don’t go to plan but being flexible will allow the different needs of the group to be met.  

Use our free training resources

Our sex and relationships education project aims to give these young people access to the same sex education as their peers through free training to professionals in care and education settings. 

The training provides practical and cost-effective guidance and includes the development of an action plan specific to each setting. The project is also using our specially created website the Disability Toolkit to make resources, advice and practice examples available to professionals.  

Teaching about sex and relationships is challenging, but good quality SRE should be available to all young people - and those with learning difficulties are no exception. 

We also run My Life 4 Schools, a free key stage 2 learning resource that covers citizenship and PSHE topics such as valuing difference, managing feelings, empathy and social skills.

By Katie Evans - Senior Project Worker
- Programme staff

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