Teaching Blind and Deafblind Students about Sex

Describing the work of Sytske Brandenburg,
Sense UK and Lex Grandia

Teaching Visually Impaired Students

Sytske Brandenburg’s worked at the Theofan Institute, Holland. She is now retired but remains a pioneer. She spoke at the conference at the Scottish Sensory Centre, University of Edinburgh in 1998) with a talk,‘Sex Education, who is limited? Knowledge, skills and feelings of both parties’ You can read her talk on http://www.ssc.education.ed.ac.uk/resources/vi&multi/brandenburgh.html

She also wrote,

”With the sexual education of children and young people with a visual impairment we do not want to achieve anything other than with the education of sighted children. The road towards this aim is sometimes different, because of the impairments.”

”We want to prepare children to enjoy sexuality, learn sexual standards and values. For example: they should know about which sexual behaviour of adults is outside the commonly accepted standards and values, such as voyeurism, ‘child molesters’, unwanted liberties at home, at school and during their spare time or at school, and they should know how to react, As well as this, children and adolescents also need to have sufficient technical knowledge concerning sexuality.”

Sytske said that ”a blind toddler may need to touch other children’s bodies, their mother’s, and their own, to learn what sighted toddlers can see. Play can be organized to give the visually impaired children a chance to experiment with the role of man and woman and to discover their own and someone else’s body through play. All this needs to happen before touch becomes taboo. Appropriate or inappropriate environments or situations for self stimulation need to be taught.”

In the special school for visually impaired children where Sytske taught, parents came twice a year to make and evaluate the individual education plan with the care staff. Sexual development was one of the topics discussed. Sytske wrote:
“On one hand, we have to make sure from time to time that the responsibilities between parents and care staff is defined properly…..On the other hand pupils are more open nowadays about, for instance, about incest experiences, so that, within our institution, we have to discuss how to deal with this phenomenon and how to recognize its signs.”
”This is tricky”, she said, ”because no child wants to testify against his or her family, but of course, once the subject is out in the open, it can become explosive. Care needs to be taken to protect the child at all costs.”

Sytske encouraged teenage workshops with sighted teenagers so they could learn the impact that certain hair styles, make up, and behaviour has on others. She recommended Gail Bailey’s book ‘What can you see?’ which offers tips for social and emotional teaching, and how to inform all pupils about what it means to be visually impaired and the articles ‘Teaching Your Blind Child About Sexuality’ and ‘Teaching sex and relationship education to pupils with vision impairment’ are also helpful.

Sytske’s school also used mixed groups with partially sighted and blind students to support blind students to gain the social skills to overcome lack of eye contact, asking pals to describe how others may be looking at them adoringly, or strangely if their eyes don’t look ‘normal’ — which is why some visually impaired people wear dark glasses.

Sytske was keen that all blind children be taught sexual values and standards necessary for sexual enjoyment. They need instructions on sexual and non-sexual touching so that they don’t allow others to touch their sexual parts until they are old enough, and that even then only when they consent. She insisted that education included learning about such things as cuddling, hugging and kissing, and social skills for asking first. In her school, they were encouraged to take dancing classes and other activities with sighted children, to support their social skills and confidence in dating.

”Visually impaired young people need to learn to be assertive and confident, to ask people to be respectful and, for example, not to leave without saying they are departing.”


Teaching Deafblind Students

Deafblind children benefit from having ‘communication partners’ to interact with who can help them discover who they are, throughout their education. Sense Scotland works with a system whereby communication partners develop shared understanding with the deafblind child, allowing the child to grow so that they can move on to the next stage of knowledge. Throughout this, the deafblind child leads, and can learn about themselves, the world, relationships, and personal development. Partners are encouraged to view deafblindness in a positive way.

It might help children with visual impairment to receive a (non-sexual) massage, in order to experience positive awareness of their body. This could help to make them feel wonderful in their own skin, and more at ease with being touched. You can find how to massage an infant online.

If you read Helen Keller’s autobiography, you learn that it is possible for a deafblind person to become socially active and popular. She wrote, “You receive one body. Whether you love it or hate it, it’s yours for life, so accept it. What counts is inside”.

Deafblind pioneer Lex Grandia was himself married and became the Secretary General of the World Federation of the Deafblind. He claimed in his paper ‘Sexual Development of young deafblind people’ that many deafblind children lack stimulation and expression. He wrote that when he was little, he was living in a dream world, rather than reality, because he was afraid of reality. Lex was not encouraged to think for himself, and he didn’t learn the barrier between his and other people’s bodies, because it was forbidden to touch other people. People without barriers are easily abused.

Many deafblind children report abuse. If touch were included with smell and taste in their education, they would know about barriers. Lex was in favour of deafblind children being able to touch live models (models brought in specially for the class, and not teachers or family members).

The UK national organization Sense is developing creative ways of supporting deafblind people to learn about their bodies, and about gender and sexuality. A yoga teacher guides them to touch each other’s bodies in the non-sexual areas and helps them understand why they cannot touch other people’s bodies in the sexual areas.

Deafblind youngsters are helped to find out about clothing so they can choose their own, which helps them build up their sexual identity. A music club attracts deafblind members and this has led to parties and a summer ball where they can meet each other.

Anji from Sense in London reported to SHADA meeting on 8th April 2011 in London, on her lack of success in campaigning against the Sexual Offences Act. The Act means that the deaf and blind people that SENSE works with are not allowed any hands-on teaching any more. Our legal advisor. Claire de Than is still battling for this to be overturned.