Teachers' views on sexuality education for children with disabilities

Do we need to teach sexuality education to children with disabilities, and who should be responsible for teaching programmes related to HIV/AIDS to these learners? Julia Louw raises these important questions in investigating how teachers and childcare providers feel about teaching sexuality and HIV/AIDS programmes to their learners with disabilities.

The aim of the study was to examine teachers’ and childcare providers’ views and perceptions of teaching sexuality and HIV/AIDS programmes to learners with disabilities in special needs schools (SNS).

Providing children and young people with sexuality education is imperative. However, providing sexuality education to children and young people with disability has turned out to be a priority of low importance. This is mainly due to the misconception that people with disabilities are not sexually active or are asexual.

Behavioural risk factors for HIV among people with disabilities are the same as those for the general population.

Limited access to such information places this highly vulnerable and marginalised group at an increased risk of HIV infection, as behavioural risk factors for HIV associated with sexual activity among people with disabilities are the same as those for the general population.

Methods

Teachers have a vital role in formal programmes of sexuality education and at times, they are often the main or the only people explicitly discussing sexuality with children and young people with disabilities. For this reason the study involved 78 special education teachers and childcare providers (68 teachers and 10 childcare providers) in the Western Cape, who completed a survey questionnaire consisting of the following five sections:

•    Demographic characteristics

•    Knowledge of HIV/AIDS

•    Attitudes towards HIV/AIDS

•    Beliefs about HIV/AIDS

•    Teaching practices of HIV/AIDS programmes

Results

The majority of the participants were females (84.6%, n=66), with an average age of 45.6 years and an average of 13.1 years’ teaching experience. All participants indicated that they had received a form of training related to teaching sexuality education to learners with disabilities, with the majority of the sample (69.3%, n=54) having had general training.

The findings indicated a strong association between the participants’ knowledge of HIV/AIDS and prevention of HIV infection. Teachers also reported high mean scores for levels of comfort – their willingness and open-mindedness to teach sexuality education to learners with disabilities.

Standard training materials were primarily designed with mainstream schools in mind.

Discussion

Although the majority of the current sample reported receiving general training on sexuality education, the data showed that their beliefs about teaching programmes pertaining to HIV/AIDS were moderately low. This may indicate that the curriculum needs to be updated with relevant topics focusing specifically on education strategies on how to deal with the unique needs of learners with disabilities.

The findings suggested that the standard training materials that were primarily designed with mainstream schools in mind, should be modified and adapted to suit the needs of children with disabilities.

In addition, there is a need for training that includes and offers insights to the influence and impact of teachers’ own perceptions and beliefs regarding sexuality. The boundary between choosing and adapting appropriate materials for the class and imposing one’s own values when modifying material is vague and indistinguishable. Therefore there is a likelihood that teachers may impose their own personal values when transferring messages to their learners. This awareness should be continuously highlighted as teachers develop the best teaching strategies and approaches to teaching sexuality education to children and young people with disabilities.

Conclusion

Teachers report a willingness to teach sexuality education to learners with disabilities but they may not necessarily believe that teaching programmes are of sufficient quality. Various opportunities arise to address the training paradigms and quality of programmes given teachers’ vital role in formal programmes of sexuality education.

Author: Dr Julia Louw, senior research specialist, HIV/AIDS, STIs and TB programme, HSRC.