Personal, Social and Health Education/ Sex and Relationship
Education (PSHE/SRE) of students with Severe Learning difficulties /
Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (SLD/PMLD)
Helen Dunman UK
My name is Helen Dunman and I’ve been a member of SHADA for 5 years. I’ve worked with young people with physical and learning disabilities for 29 years. I currently teach and have responsibility for PSHE at Chailey Heritage Foundation. We also have an adult transition programme for 19-25 year olds.
The students I work with at Chailey all have severe physical disabilities, learning needs which range from severe to profound and multiple, along with complex sensory, communication and medical needs. I am committed to ensuring that all of our students are given the highest quality of Sex and Relationship Education as part of their school curriculum and I support staff so that they feel confident to tackle this subject.
It is essential that all young people feel that they can talk freely about growing up and sexuality with specialist staff at school and I feel proud that this is a strong message we give to our students who have told me that they value our approach. One of the challenges for our young people is that they use alternatives to speech, so ensuring that these students have access to vocabulary and symbols within their communication systems is an important part of our work. We have devised a ‘Private Words’ Book which empowers non verbal students to speak frankly about sex and relationship issues.
We provide a completely individualised, person-centred curriculum and tailor each student’s sex & relationship education (SRE) to their individual needs, whatever that may mean for them.
My involvement in SHADA started about five years ago following a discussion I had with a small group of young adults. They told me that they were interested in:
a) learning more about sex workers
b) being able to view pornography and sexually explicit material
c) sharing a bedroom with a long standing boyfriend/girlfriend
d) finding out more about sex aids
a) SHADA was extremely helpful in giving me the legal information I needed, with regards to specialist sex workers who work with disabled people and are safe and non-trafficked. I have been able to talk to young adults (at their request) to give clear information about all aspects to consider when thinking about meeting with a sex worker so that a client can make an informed decision if s/he decides to embark on this journey, including: legal; financial; safety; and emotional.
b) SHADA colleagues were also helpful in advising me in writing guidelines for the Viewing of Pornography and sexually explicit material, by students over 18, who wish to do so. We now have a set of clear guidelines for staff which they have been trained in, and any young adult over 18 who wishes to view pornography can do so.
c) In principle an established couple could now share a bedroom, if one is available.
d) The issues around sex aids continue to be a complex one. In the first instance we encourage and facilitate our young people to explore their bodies as part of their developing sexuality, within our safeguarding policies. We have found that handled sensitively and in a practical way, a young person may not need to use additional aids.
Some other SRE projects I’ve been involved in:
• installing large mirrors in all changing areas so that students can see the whole of their body when being changed and so develop a greater awareness of their own bodies
• setting up a series of sex education sessions for students with PMLD and observing the clear pleasure that young women with PMLD got from seeing themselves in a body-length mirror, wearing a bikini without all the orthotic devices and equipment they usually have to wear
• devising and running projects to enhance disabled young people’s positive body image
• creating a personal safety course for older students, aimed at helping empower them in their relationships with others
• creating and hosting parent and carer discussion workshops around sexuality and disability, where parents and carers valued being able to share ideas and anxieties and are facilitated to talk freely about these issues
• training staff in how to talk to children and young people about sensitive areas such as sexuality, so that questions can be handled appropriately and confidently by staff and that they feel supported in doing this
I help enable our Foundation to support young people and adults in developing and understanding their sexuality, whatever that means for them, within the law and our own safeguarding policies. This has involved extensive research and consultation, including with the young people themselves, their families, lawyers, specialist disability sex workers and more. SHADA has been a great support in this work.