There has been a lot of conversation around personal safety education and its importance for children. And this becomes even more crucial for children with learning and/or physical disabilities due to their increased vulnerability.
Interactive methods and visual aid
To address the issue of sexual abuse, Enfold designed a toolkit to help children with intellectual disabilities to learn personal safety and sexuality etiquette. When normally abled children are taught about issues concerning sexuality, it involves lectures and textual material. But for children with special needs, visual material is essential for better understanding and retention, explained Renu Singh, a special educator, who developed the kit.
The kit uses flashcards, puzzles, visual material and file folder activities and also consists of social scripts with relatable narratives on bodily changes such as masturbation, menstruation, erection, wet dreams and other emotional states.
“These children need visual material that is concrete, interactive and descriptive. For children with visual impairments, we have developed audio books along with tactile and embossed images and for those with auditory impairments, we have videos that explain through sign language,” Renu said.
The kit also teaches children to manage themselves in social settings and seek help in times of trouble. “We teach children to approach their ‘safe adult’ when they face danger. They are told that a ‘safe adult’ may not necessarily be their parents or teachers. Sometimes caregivers are themselves the abusers. So, we don’t suggest who a ‘safe adult’ is, it is for the child to decide based on how they feel,” she added.
Good Touch and Bad Touch
The special needs schools confirmed to regularly conducts sessions on good touch and bad touch, using dolls and diagrams for students of all classes, right from nursery.
“We start with body awareness classes where we teach the students about private body parts through role play. For example, we give the kids a situation where they may be in a cab. We then tell them that if the cab driver keeps turning back to look at them, or touch them, it is inappropriate,” said Rita James, the Principal of Asha Kiran Special Needs School.
Perpetrators of abuse are often people within a child’s close circle, such as relatives or neighbours. “During the awareness sessions, we are very straightforward with the students and tell them that an abuser can be anybody, including family members,” she added.
Apart from role play and age-appropriate videos, children are also sensitized about CSA through stories and art-based therapies such as music, drama and dance. Students are taught to maintain one arm distance from others and scream, “No, don’t touch!” when confronted with danger, said Usha Madan, psychotherapist and counsellor at Deepika School.
Rajini Padmanaban, coordinator of Brindavan Education Trust said that the school conducts individual sessions with parents of those children who may need help understanding issues of abuse and bodily agency.
“To some children with intellectual disabilities, it very difficult to explain the idea of violation. It hard to tell them that you cannot be hugged by everyone. In such cases we involve the parents”, she added.
The educators also encourage some students, who may have experienced discomfort of, say, being stared at inappropriately, to share their experience with the class of 8-10 students, if they feel comfortable.
“When students see their fellow classmates discuss issues, they are able to relate to it. This makes them realize that they too have experienced, or can be, in similar situations,” Rajini said.
Role of parents
In many cases, parents feel that just because their child’s intellectual growth is stunted, their physical growth may also be affected. So, parents continue to treat their teenage children as younger children.
“Physical development occurs irrespective of intellectual growth. But parents fail to understand this. Parents need to stop sleeping with their children, washing them, giving them a bath and undressing them if they do not need it. We tell parents to maintain optimal physical contact with their child because otherwise, such children cannot discriminate between safe and unsafe touch. Nor can they understand if a physical gesture is an act of affection or an assault,” said Usha Madan.
Sexual abuse goes unnoticed when one does not understand bodily autonomy and privacy. Thus, an effort must be made by parents to make their children independent and self-aware, she adds.