Sexuality Education for Individuals with Autism and Developmental Disabilities

Anatomy, Language and Pregnancy

In this video, Dr. Achey discusses the importance of talking about anatomy, using proper language when discussing anatomy, and the importance of describing the bodily processes of pregnancy and birth to children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities. As a reminder, each of these training sessions are brief and should not be considered a comprehensive source on the specific topics covered. Each family is encouraged to determine what information and activities are appropriate for their child.

Foundational conversations with young children will promote better communication, but it is never too late to start talking with your child about anatomy with the following guidance.

When speaking with your child or adolescent it is important to always use correct terms for their anatomy. You will want to teach correct names of the major body parts, including the genitals. This teaches the child that their genitals are part of their bodies, and nothing to be ashamed of. Continue this dialogue with your child as you move into potty training. If your child uses a nickname learned elsewhere, acknowledge the different term, and say something like: “Yes, there are a lot of names for these body parts, but the correct names are…”

These conversations will help you and your child to communicate about their anatomy if there were ever to be any health issues, injuries or sexual abuse. By having an open and accurate conversation about a child’s body you will build a foundation where a child or adolescent can later come to you with questions or concerns as they continue to develop and mature. It is not too late if you have not established these communication habits. You can begin today by naming all body parts accurately and conveying that the body and its functions are natural and healthy.

As you discuss bodies within your home and as a family, remember you want to encourage your children to have a positive body image and self confidence. To help children feel good about their entire body, teach about anatomical differences between males and females while maintaining that all children are equally special. Be sure to not show any discomfort in your facial expressions or in your tone, your body language needs to match the message that “all bodies are good bodies.”  

Specifically, for older children and adolescents, continue to use shame-free language and provide information about their changing body. As your child matures and continues to develop, you will want to teach both internal and external anatomy of their bodies and discuss the basic functions. You will want to talk about these topics even if your child does not specifically ask, that way they know you are a trusted source to go to for such information. 

When talking to children about pregnancy, the younger the child, the less detail they need. Often a simple and honest explanation is sufficient, if your child wants more information, they will let you know. As children get older, you can fold in more detail.

It is normal for younger kids to be pretty impressed by the new information they learned and want to talk about it a lot. So while it is important to help your child feel comfortable talking about these topics, it is also a good idea to teach them about respecting people’s boundaries and your families expectations around these conversations. You can delay the conversation, as long as you follow up with your child or you may wish for your child to seek out other appropriate adults. If you wish for your child to discuss these topics with others, you can then help them identify other safe and trustworthy adults in their life, like a co-parent, grandparents, or other family members to talk about where babies come from and pregnancy. You may want to also include how to talk about reproduction in an inclusive way that does not leave out gay parents, trans or gender non-conforming parents, and families who came together through adoption, surrogacy, or reproductive assistance.