University of Edinburgh

Sex Education; meeting the curricular challenges for young people with multiple disabilities, including sensory impairments

Tuesday 28 February 2006

Emerging Sexuality - Supporting Cathy


  • Cathy is deafblind
  • 14 years old
  • She has no useful vision and is profoundly deaf
  • Lives in care setting

Why was support needed?

  • Cathy often spent time masturbating
  • She did not understand the concept of modesty
  • Staff did not know how to help
  • Staff/family were also concerned about onset of menstruation

The Process:

  • Multi-Agency collaboration
  • Observation – 2 days
  • What was really happening?
    ~ Environment
    ~ Contact with others
    ~ Interaction/communication
    ~ Activity levels and content

2 day workshop/staff training:

  • Evaluation - What had we learnt?
    ~ importance of relationships
    ~ interaction style and the impact on Cathy’s behaviour
    ~ how different attitudes/cultural issues were affecting practice
    ~ what Cathy liked to do

Intervention: What support did Cathy need?

  • consistent and gentle approach
  • better communication through co-active sign and OR's
  • relationship - joyful interaction
  • an increase in motivating activity – her focus of interest

How can we measure success?

  • reduction in need to masturbate
  • pleasure measure - more smiles!
  • increased understanding of public/private and use of own room for masturbation
  • change in staff awareness and attitudes

Which Resources were useful?

Sense Policy on Sexuality and Relationships
Sex in Context
Ann Craft & Caroline Downs 1997
Sexuality Education for Individuals who are Deafblind..
Kate Moss & Robbie Blaha. 2001

Next Steps

  • key 1:1 staff attended Sense Intervenor training
  • ongoing monitoring and consultancy support from Sense
  • consideration of wider needs including start of menstruation