Mothers of adolescents with learning disabilities confident in dealing with sexuality of offspring but express concerns

The recent focus on mindfulness should not be limited to the general population or a privileged few but accessible and relevant to parents of children with disability

Sexuality in adults with learning disabilities is a subject that has only relatively recently been tackled in the literature. The researchers in this study were interested in sexuality in adolescents, and wanted to look at the attitudes and behaviours of mothers of adolescents and consider whether or not the presence of learning disability might affect this.

They worked with two groups of 30 mothers – one group where the young person had a learning disability and the other matched group where the young person was developing normally.

They found from their interviews that both groups placed importance on dealing with their children’s developing sexuality.

Interestingly, both groups of mothers expressed that they were confident in doing so.

However, the mothers of young people with learning disabilities were more cautious in their attitudes towards contraception, the readiness of their young person to learn about sex and potential decisions about intimate relationships.

In addition, the mothers of young people with learning disabilities expressed a number of concerns about sexual vulnerability in their offspring. When considering the way the topic of sex had been dealt with, the researchers also found that mothers of young people with learning disabilities had spoken about fewer sexual topics with their children and had also begun these discussions when their children were older than in those where the young people did not have a learning disability.

The authors suggest their findings should be used to inform a more sensitive approach to providing support and developing materials to help families deal with the sexual development of their offspring..

Sexuality and Sex Education of Adolescents with Intellectual Disability: Mothers’ Attitudes, Experiences, and Support Needs, Pownall J et al., in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 50, 2, 140-154.

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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