Summer Safety Tips

Hannah Swimming

Image via Susy Morris, used under a Creative Commons license

Co-Authored by: Vee Cecil and The Arc. Vee is a Wellness Coach, Personal Trainer, and Boot camp Instructor who lives in Kentucky with her family. Vee is passionate about studying and sharing her findings in wellness through her recently-launched website.

Summer is officially in full swing. And for many, that means spending more time outside on sunny days or trips to local pools or beaches. Swimming is a great way to fill up those summer days for many reasons. It is an excellent form of exercise and it has also been shown to have mental health benefits.

That said, any time individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are around water, extra precaution should be taken. The National Autism Association pegs drowning as one of the leading causes of death among children with autism, and as Prevention1st.org notes, children with developmental disabilities are twice as likely to suffer an unintentional injury. One factor that further endangers individuals with autism and other intellectual disabilities is that they may not immediately understand the dangers of water. Especially in the case of children with autism, they may even be drawn to it or fascinated by it. This is why it is so important that parents, caregivers, and individuals with I/DD and autism understand water safety practices. Adaptive swim lessons are given through the YMCA at various locations throughout the US. Click here to see a list of locations.

CDC’s recent issues of Vital Signs stated that the rates of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, have doubled over the last 3 decades. Applying (and remembering to reapply) sunscreen when outdoors, after getting out of the water, and especially during peak sun hours will help to prevent sunburn and furthermore skin cancer.   Sunscreen should be at least an SPF of 15 and applied on sunny as well as cloudy days.

Monitoring how much time is spent outside on hot days is also very important. Overheating, (often called heat exhaustion or in extreme cases heat stroke), can be serious if the indicators are overlooked.   Signs of heat illness that can occur when spending too much time outside can include:

  • Headache and dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Red clammy skin
  • Not sweating when hot out (or stop sweating)
  • Seizures

If any of these symptoms are present, an individual should get out of the sun immediately and head indoors or to a shady spot. If available, a cool wet washcloth should be applied to their skin to help bring down their body temperature. To help prevent overheating make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after spending time outside. When planning outdoor events, keep in mind that the sun is at its hottest between 10am and 4pm, so having spots where individuals can go inside to cool down or seek some shade is vital.

Making sure those you care for are well informed about how to stay safe in the sun and near water this summer is essential. The Arc’s HealthMeet project has developed Water Safety, Sun Safety, and Heat Sickness flyers to post in and around your organization to help teach and reinforce these important lessons.

Osteoporosis Prevention

HealthMeetOsteoporosis, a condition where an individual’s bones become increasingly brittle and fragile, is one of the most commonly diagnosed bone diseases in the U.S. However, screening and diagnosis for individuals with disabilities are commonly overlooked. While screening for the general population usually starts later in life around age 65, individuals with disabilities should start being screened much earlier since the risk often comes at an earlier age. Osteoporosis is a secondary condition that can be alleviated (and in some cases prevented) if proper treatment and screening measures are in place.

Osteoporosis usually affects women (especially postmenopausal) more than men.   Women with specific disabilities that impair mobility are even more at risk to developing osteoporosis due to bone loss from immobility. Other lifestyle factors that can contribute to osteoporosis are:

  1. Low levels of calcium and vitamin D
  2. Smoking
  3. High levels of alcohol use
  4. Inactivity
  5. Small bone structure
  6. Frequent use of steroid treatments

Through the HealthMeet project we have found that the rate of falls for individuals with disabilities was 3 times higher than the rate for the general population. Falling can be particularly dangerous for an individual with osteoporosis, which can easily cause fractures and breaks that can lead to increased mobility issues and extensive hospital fees. Making sure homes and organizations are set up to prevent falls will help to decrease the initial risk of falling.

Some steps to take to help prevent osteoporosis are:

  1. Exercise – especially weight bearing exercises to help build bone density
  2. Limit alcohol intake and avoid smoking
  3. Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D – Ask your doctor if you should be taking calcium or vitamin D supplements

Screening for osteoporosis can be difficult due to the tests that are required for diagnosis. Individuals with disabilities may not be able to sit in the required position to obtain x-rays or may have a hard time lying still for the amount of time required for the tests. Primary care physicians need to be educated to screening alternatives such as ultrasound, and the importance of prioritizing prevention methods for individuals with disabilities.

Check out The Arc’s HealthMeet page for more information relating to health and wellness.

Learn How HealthMeet® is Promoting Healthy Lives!

In 2012, The Arc launched the HealthMeet® project because we believe people with intellectual disabilities (ID) should have access to high quality, comprehensive, and affordable health care. HealthMeet® offers free community-based health assessments to people with ID at selected chapters in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Over 1,500 people have been assessed through the HealthMeet initiative and 9 percent of those participants reported to have an autism spectrum disorder. At The Arc, we believe that Autism Acceptance is promoting healthy lifestyles.

Overall, HealthMeet® has been a positive experience for participants and chapters of The Arc involved in the project. The health assessments provide an opportunity for participants to be assessed in the areas of vital signs and body composition, respiratory health, vision, hearing, oral health, and foot and mobility issues. Participants also feel empowered to take charge of their health by engaging in dialogue with health assessors about the status of their health and recommendations for follow-up care. As Erika Hagensen of The Arc of North Carolina has noted “health is not a taboo topic, it’s an empowering topic.”

The chapters of The Arc involved in HealthMeet® have leveraged community resources and developed partnerships with local entities such as public health departments, nursing schools, and medical schools. HealthMeet® has also been a learning experience for many of the healthcare professionals that conduct the health assessments because they now feel more equipped to serve people with ID. Through HealthMeet®, healthcare providers have developed better communication skills that will ultimately help them serve the participant’s healthcare needs.

To learn more about how The Arc is increasing health opportunities for people with ID view this video:

If you are a healthcare provider, national organization of healthcare providers, caregiver, chapter of The Arc, or service provider (not affiliated with The Arc), we ask that you join our effort to increase your knowledge of the I/DD community and serve people with I/DD. Learn more by viewing this video:

HealthMeet aims to reduce health disparities experienced by people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) so they can live a longer and healthier life. Through free health assessments and training, HealthMeet helps people with I/DD learn about their health needs. HealthMeet also offers training to improve public, health professional, and caregiver awareness of health issues faced by people with I/DD. HealthMeet is supported through at $1 million cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For more information on the HealthMeet project, contact Jennifer Sladen at sladen@thearc.org.

Step into Good Foot Health

Feet

Image via Care_SMC, used under a Creative Commons license

Through The Arc’s HealthMeet project, which provides free health assessments to individuals with IDD in 5 pilot states, we have unveiled some common health concerns affecting this population, one of these issues being poor foot health. Foot care is important because for most people, our feet are how we get around throughout the day. Discomfort in the feet can cause mobility issues and lead to an increased risk of falling.

Each foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, and about 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments. Keeping your feet strong and healthy will help to reduce pain and discomfort. Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) can be at a higher risk for having foot pain due to bone or muscle deformities, or lack of access to adequate medical care.

Other factors that can contribute to foot pain are obesity and diabetes – both of which individuals with I/DD have higher rates of than the general population. Our feet carry all of our body weight on them wherever we go, so individuals that are overweight are constantly putting more pressure and stress on their feet, which over time can cause muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the foot to stretch out and break down. Obesity can also lead to type 2 diabetes. Individuals that have diabetes are recommended to have an annual foot exam by a doctor or podiatrist due to the many complications that can come from having “diabetic foot”. Over time, diabetes can cause nerve and blood vessel damage resulting in less feeling or numbness and less blood circulation to your feet. A person may not be able to feel when they cut their foot or if something is rubbing against their foot causing open sores. These sores and cuts can then go unnoticed for days. With the lack of blood circulating to the foot due to damaged blood vessels, the healing process is slowed down, letting infections develop. Even if an individual is not able to use their legs or feet, they still need to be checked to ensure they are healthy and free of infections.

Some individuals with I/DD that are less verbal may not be able to express the pain that they are feeling in their feet or think the constant pain is normal. This distress could result in moodiness and lack of desire to be physical active. Communication between individuals with I/DD and their caretakers and physicians is essential to maintaining good foot health.

Below are some things you can do to make sure that proper foot care is occurring to prevent foot pain and infections:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight – excessive weight leads to more pressure that can cause foot/heel pain or arthritis
  2. Wear shoes with good supports – for extreme cases of flat feet, etc. orthotics that are made to fit an individual’s specific foot may be needed
  3. Wash feet every day with warm water and in between toes
  4. Inspect feet every day for sores, cuts, and blisters and make sure to clean out properly
  5. Trim toenails – make sure not to trim too short which could lead to ingrown toenails
  6. Don’t go barefoot in areas where there can be sharp objects or rocks that can cut the bottom of your feet
  7. Use sunscreen on your feet– the skin on the top/bottom of your feet can be especially sensitive to sun exposure and overlooked when applying sunscreen

For more information on how to take care of your feet better, check out the HealthMeet project’s Resource Page.

Preventing Falls for People with Intellectual Disability (ID)

HealthMeetFalls can cause injuries that make it hard to live as independently as possible. Equally important, many people who fall once develop a fear of falling. This fear may cause them to be inactive, which only increases risk of falling in the future.

According to findings from over 1,400 adults with ID, 18 percent* fell at home in the past year. While many consider falling an issue only for older adults (ages 65 or older), of whom 33 percent report falling each year, these findings came from respondents ages 14 or older. This implies that people with ID of all ages may be more likely to fall and may need more help to avoid falls at home.

Luckily, falling is preventable.

There are many steps that people with ID, family, friends, and staff can take to decrease the chance of falling.

  1. Exercise, exercise, exercise – Doing exercises that improve leg strength and balance are especially beneficial for reducing rates of falls. Tai Chi programs are especially helpful. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) and Disabled Sports USA offers examples of Tai Chi movements for people with disabilities.
  1. Review medications with doctors/pharmacists – Medicines may be causing side effects like dizziness or drowsiness that may cause people to fall.
  1. Visit the eye doctor – Having eyes checked and a prescription updated once a year can help ensure that a person sees any potential falling hazard in his/her way.
  1. Make the home and The Arc safer – Adding grab bars inside/outside a tub or shower and next to a toilet, adding railings on both sides of the stairways or improving lighting in a home or building can lessen the risk of falls. Check out this checklist from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on how you can make a home or building safer.
  1. Connect with falls prevention programs – One great resource center is the National Falls Prevention Resource Center, which provides falls prevention materials for families and professionals. This Center also supports grantees addressing falls prevention issues in local communities. Any chapter of The Arc interested in falls prevention for people with ID is encouraged to connect with these grantees to find out more on how to work together to prevent falls in local communities!

*These findings come from The Arc’s HealthMeet project.

HealthMeet aims to reduce health disparities experienced by people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD) so they can live a longer and healthier life. Through free health assessments and training, HealthMeet helps people with I/DD learn about their health needs. HealthMeet also offers training to improve public, health professional, and caregiver awareness of health issues faced by people with I/DD. HealthMeet is supported through at $1 million cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For more information on the HealthMeet project, contact Jennifer Sladen at sladen@thearc.org.

Love Your Heart

Heart graphic

Corazon image via Ilhh, used under a Creative Commons license

The leading cause of death for both men and women in the US is heart disease, with 1 in 4 deaths being attributed to it. February is recognized by many organizations as American Heart Month. While there are things that can affect your heart that are out of your control (such as genetics, race, sex), luckily there are many things that can be easily altered in an individual’s lifestyle that can help improve your heart health.

Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are at an increased risk of developing secondary health issues and engaging in risky behaviors that can lead to an increased risk of heart disease. However, many of these secondary issues can be modified, and in exchange lead to a healthier heart. We found what we believe are six of the top factors that affect individuals with IDD (and those without IDD) that can be altered/maintained in their lifestyle to help keep their heart healthy.

  1. Eat healthy and be physically active

Healthy eating leads to increased energy, weight loss, and lower cholesterol levels. If possible, try to stay away from frozen/processed meals, which can be high in trans-fat, and eat fresh foods. Some other healthy eating tips are:

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Don’t completely cut yourself off from treats! Once-a-week type special treats or sweets help to reduce cravings and binge eating, but should not be eaten every day.
  • On Sundays, plan your meals for the entire week, so you know what you’ll be eating each day.
  • Cookbooks such as Cooking By Color, can help individuals with IDD learn about how to prepare simple, healthy meals at home.

CDC Vital Signs put out a report in May 2014 stating that nearly half of all individuals with disabilities get no physical activity. Recommended strategies to be more physically active are:

  • Get 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week. This can include joining a walking club, dancing, online workout videos, or attending a yoga/fitness class at your local Chapter of The Arc or fitness center.
  • If 30 minutes is too long to exercise all at once, split it up and do three 10 minute segments throughout the day. Individuals will reap the same health benefits as doing it all at once.
  1. Maintain a healthy weight

Thirty six percent of individuals with disabilities are considered obese as compared to 23% of individuals without disabilities. Regular physical exercise and healthy eating will help individuals to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes, which is another risk factor that contributes to heart disease.

  1. Quit smoking

According to the CDC the rate of individuals with disabilities that smoke is notably higher than of those who do not have a disability. The chemicals and plaque from tobacco build up on the inside of the arteries, causing the passageway to narrow. This puts a lot of extra stress on the heart muscle to work harder than usual to make sure blood is circulating through the body.

Some resources to help individuals with IDD quit smoking include…

  1. Maintain a healthy blood pressure level

Individuals with IDD are 13% more likely to have high blood pressure/hypertension than those without disabilities. One cause of this could again stem back to lack of physical activity and poor eating habits. Normal blood pressure is 120/80. Other ways to help reduce blood pressure to safe levels are:

  • Reduce sodium – replace salt with spice to flavor foods
  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit stress levels
  • Reduce alcohol consumption or drink in moderation
  • In extreme cases medication may be required
  1. Don’t drink alcohol or drink in moderation

Moderation for men is 1-2 drinks per day and 1-per day for women. Excessive alcohol use over time can cause high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, contribute to cardiomyopathy and stroke, or lead to heart failure.

  1. Manage stress

Stress levels for some individuals with IDD can be elevated daily due to frustration caused by communication barriers with peers/physicians/staff, or lack of ability to fully grasp certain concepts in school/work/social environments. In stressful situations, individuals might also choose to respond in non-healthy ways, such as overeating, smoking, or drinking alcohol as ways to cope. Enforcing good daily habits to deal with stress, such as exercising, meditating, or talking with friends/family, will help individuals with IDD manage stress in a healthy manner.

Making a few of these changes could have a huge impact on your heart and the way your body works. Learn more about how these 5 categories and how to improve your health by utilizing the resources from The Arc’s HealthMeet project.

Hypertension More Prevalent in Individuals with IDD

Woman with nurse34% of adults with disabilities have high blood pressure compared to 26% of individuals without disabilities. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often called the “silent killer.” Many people have high blood pressure and go about their business every day not even knowing it. This is one of many reasons why regular check-ups are vital to maintaining good health. A recent study published by the CDC stated that individuals with disabilities are 13% more likely to have high blood pressure levels than individuals without disabilities. Individuals with mobility issues have an even higher risk and are 23% more likely.

Blood pressure, which is the pressure of blood against the walls of blood vessels, can be hazardous if it remains at a continually high level. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or less. Any higher than 120/80 and it is considered at risk for high blood pressure (also called pre-hypertension). A reading of 140/90 or higher is categorized as hypertension and you should consult your doctor. High blood pressure basically means that the heart is working overtime circulate blood and keep the body running efficiently. Working at this escalated level causes wear and damage to the blood vessels and heart, which leads to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Factors that can contribute to high blood pressure are obesity, lack of physical activity, and diabetes – all issues that are very prevalent in individuals with disabilities. Foods with high percentages of sodium, fat, and cholesterol are also contributors and unfortunately can be found in may pre-made or frozen foods; which may be distributed to individuals at group homes, shared living residents, etc. because they are cost efficient and quick/easy to prepare. Preparing fresh meals at home is the best way to know what ingredients and how much salt is going into meals.

While some factors, like genetics and family history, you can’t change there fortunately are many easy things that you can modify in your daily life to try to lower and maintain your blood pressure level. Some of these things include:

  1. Eat a healthier diet including many fruits and vegetables.
  2. Reduce sodium intake. (Look for low/no sodium on food labels, rinse canned food to remove excess salt)
  3. Maintain a healthy weight.
  4. Get regular physical activity.
  5. Don’t smoke (or quit if you currently do smoke).
  6. Limit alcohol intake.
  7. Reduce stress.

Individuals that can’t bring their blood pressure levels down by making changes to their diet/lifestyle may need medication from a doctor to help lower levels. Many individuals with disabilities are on other medications as well, so make sure to ask the doctor about side effects and if previous medications will be an issue.

Having blood pressure checked every 1-2 years will help to monitor levels. If high blood pressure is detected, it is a good idea to check it more regularly. A blood pressure machine can easily be purchased at most drug stores or pharmacies at a relatively low cost.

For more information about eating healthier, increasing physical activity, and more check out The Arc’s HealthMeet page with plenty of resources and archived webinars to get started.

Issues That Affect Oral Health for Individuals with IDD

Toothpaste and toothbrush

Image via Kenneth Lu, used under a Creative Commons license

Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) often suffer from many health-related conditions.  According to several studies and through The Arc’s HealthMeet project we have learned that poor oral health has been a significant problem for individuals with IDD.  One-third of individuals with IDD have untreated cavities and eighty-percent have untreated gum disease.  Tooth or gum pain can cause individuals to stop eating, affect speech/communication, and affect overall behavior and mood.

There is a multitude of reasons as to why oral health is an issue.  Accessibility to/from appointments, around the dentist office, and with equipment can all be large obstacles.  Financial reasons are also another large factor as some dentists won’t accept Medicaid or dental visits aren’t covered under their current insurance plan.  The lack of training and education for dentists regarding how to communicate and work with individuals with IDD can also impact the quality of services they are entitled to receive.

Due to some of these constrictions, individuals with IDD are less likely to visit the dentist for routine care.  Fear of the dentist can make getting routine cleanings and check ups a traumatizing experience.  These preventative visits, which can help to find cavities and signs of gum disease early on, are then skipped letting small issues grow into larger problems.   Organizations such as Practice without Pressure and the Blende Dental Group are striving to help improve oral health in individuals with IDD in their local areas by providing practice sessions to reduce fear and anxiety, and offering home visits.

Individuals with IDD tend to have poor eating habits when compared to the general population, which can mean eating more sugary foods, sodas, fast food – all things that have higher levels of bacteria that cling to teeth, causing plaque to build up and eat away at the enamel on your teeth causing cavities. Problems such as sensory issues, the taste/feel of the toothpaste or toothbrush, and inability to grasp the toothbrush can all make daily brushing a challenge.  Other times it’s as simple as just not remembering to brush twice a day letting plaque sit and eat away at teeth overnight while sleeping.

Saliva is a natural agent that helps neutralize the acidity/plaque levels in our mouth.  However, some medications (examples can be high blood pressure meds, antihistamines, antidepressants, etc.) can have a side effect of lowering the levels of saliva in the mouth (often called dry mouth).  These lower levels mean that less plaque is washed away and it has a longer time to linger on teeth causing decay.  Certain liquid medications can also be high in sugars as well.

While some of these obstacles are more difficult to change and will take time, there are many things that influence your oral health status that can be more easily altered in your daily routine.  Below are some tips that can help make daily oral care and prevention easier for individuals with IDD:

  • Poking a hole in a tennis ball and inserting the handle of a toothbrush or molding putty around the handle will make it much easier to grip and use.
  • Simple diet changes, like cutting out sodas and sweets, in addition to also assisting with weight loss and energy levels, will also help lower plaque levels in your mouth that can cause cavities.
  • Reduce snacking between meals – every time we eat our mouth turn into an acidic environment. In between eating is when our mouth has a chance to neutralize and return to normal levels. More snacking means the mouth stays at a higher acidic level for longer periods.
  • Set alarms on phones or leave notes in the bathroom as reminders to brush teeth in the morning and before going to bed.  Apps for your phone can be downloaded to set reminders.
  • If possible, try to take medications at meal times or at least before you brush your teeth at night so that plaque does not sit overnight on your teeth.

Being aware of some of these factors that can influence your oral health will help individuals be more conscious in the future and realize the importance of trying to get to the dentist yearly for routine care. Check out Healthmeet’s webpage for more informationresources and webinars on oral health care for individuals with IDD.

Fall Is Racing Season!

If you’re a runner or have any runner friends you might have heard them talk about fall being race season. To many runners, the crisp autumn weather is considered the “perfect” running weather and a lot of people head out to local parks, community centers, etc. to take part in the fun of running a race – whether it’s a 5k (3.1 miles) or a marathon.

CDC’s Vital Signs earlier this year sent out shocking statistics that half of all adults with disabilities get no aerobic exercise at all and are three times more likely to have heart disease, stroke and diabetes. For those that are able, running/walking is a great way to get in daily exercise without having to have a special place to go or expensive equipment to use. The only real equipment that is needed is proper shoes and comfortable workout clothing.

While running may be hard for some to start off with walking can actually provide many of the same health benefits as running without all the impact that running endures on the body. Running and walking are both great cardiovascular activities that help to build muscle and endurance, make your heart stronger, and help relieve high blood pressure. They also burn calories which aid in weight loss and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

While running/walking is a very individualized sport that you don’t need anyone else to do it with, it can actually be a very social activity as well. A walking club is a great way to stay active and socialize with friends at the same time. All over the country are runs and walks of various distances that anyone can take part in, regardless of if they have an intellectual disability or not. Now-a-days more and more races are taking the initiative to specifically reach out to individuals with intellectual disabilities to be a part of the action. Girls on the Run (GOTR) is a 12 week running program for girls ranging from 3rd to 8th grade with the goal of finishing a sponsored 5k race at the end of the program. GOTR in Columbia has reached out to The Arc of Midlands to work with them to recruit individuals to join in one of their upcoming races. The Spartan Race is an off-road race combined with different obstacles throughout the course and has grown significantly more popular in past years. The Spartan Race has recently modified their course in certain locations to develop a Special Needs Obstacle Course so that individuals with intellectual disabilities can participate as well.

Completing a race is more than just doing the miles. In addition to the many physical benefits from running or walking there is also a great sense of accomplishment and pride that comes from crossing the finish line filled with the support of spectators cheering you on. It helps to boost overall self-esteem and mood, which is what draws many people back to do another race. Many races give out shirts and some even give medals to everyone who finishes, which is a great bonus to all the hard work and training that has been accomplished.

A popular fun race to do every year is a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day morning. It’s a great way to get the entire family and friends out to be active and do an activity that includes individuals of all ages and fitness levels. It’s also a great way to burn some calories before that big turkey dinner later in the day! So this fall think about joining a running/walking group in your community or start one with friends and family to help increase your fitness level. To find local races in your area, check out the race calendar. Learn more ways to stay healthy and active by checking out The Arc’s HealthMeet page.

Reproductive Health Education and Disability

Holding Hands

Image via Summer Skyes, used under a Creative Commons license

Reproductive and sexual health is a natural part of everyone’s life, but seems to be a very taboo topic for individuals with IDD. Reproductive and sexual education is taught in most public schools all across the United States, but not many programs are out there that explain it so that individuals with IDD can fully understand. If we truly want these individuals to live healthy fulfilling lives, educating them about sexual health should be included. Part of living a fulfilling life is to find healthy relationships that help you throughout life’s ups and downs and increase your emotional happiness, so why should that be any different for individuals with IDD.

While this topic can be uncomfortable and scary to discuss with those you care for, it is necessary. There are stereotypes out there regarding this topic such as – individuals with IDD are asexual or, just the opposite, that they have an over-sexual drive that they can’t control. These stereotypes are just not true. They go through the same feelings and emotions that any other individual may have, but with the subject commonly being overlooked they may not understand what is happening in their bodies or how to properly deal with those feelings in ways that are socially acceptable. Teaching behaviors like when and where certain behaviors are acceptable, proper communication, mutual consent between individuals, and how to be smart/safe about protecting yourself in different situations is essential. A lot of this type of education is about teaching appropriate behaviors while the rest is presenting the actual facts.

Many individuals with disabilities have girlfriends/boyfriends, so it is important for them to know the options about if they are going to act on their feelings how to be safe to prevent the transmission of STD’s and unplanned pregnancy (unless in confliction with religious, cultural beliefs, etc.). Since many of these individuals may have pre-existing medications they take, consulting their physician is the best way to figure out what method of prevention is appropriate and safe for each individual. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently stated that birth control and reproductive health should be integrated to become a part of regular care for individuals with IDD.

Another very key reason why this topic should be addressed is because individuals with IDD are at a much higher risk of being sexually assaulted. Statistics say that an alarming 80% of females and 30% of males with IDD are sexually abused during their lifetime. Learning about the difference between good and bad relationships and appropriate boundaries is essential. This type of education will help teach individuals that it is OK to speak up and say no in a situation they are not comfortable in and hopefully will help to prevent these types of incidents from occurring to individuals with IDD in the future.

While it’s a difficult subject for a lot of people, it’s important that we learn to properly teach individuals with IDD about reproductive and sexual health. The Arc’s HealthMeet project has a resource section that contains information about puberty, sexuality and more. Teaching individuals to understand their bodies and feelings will lead to healthier relationships in the future.