Sex education for children in Malaysia, whether in schools or within the family, continues to raise concerns.
For many, sex education for children is perceived to be irrelevant, developmentally unsuitable, and a way of normalising inappropriate activities.
Studies have shown that the majority of Malaysian parents who have been brought up in a culturally-conservative background have a negative perception of children’s understanding of sexuality.
In their minds, sex education promotes premarital sexual activities.
In fact and on the contrary, there is a lot more to sex education than just the act of sex.
On one hand, it educates children on both sex and the value of abstinence, as taught in mainstream schools through the subjects of Biology, Moral Studies and Islamic Education.
On the other hand, sex education should also talk about feelings, emotions, gender roles, body image, and most importantly, protecting one’s self from unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted infections.
While most parents and teachers consider anything to do with sex a taboo subject, the question remains: if we don’t teach our children to protect themselves, who will?
And if this is occurring in mainstream schools, imagine the situation of special needs children when it comes to this subject.
More guidance needed
Special needs schools in Malaysia do have a syllabus on sex education, e.g. teaching students the appropriate names of body parts and to avoid inappropriate touching, but its delivery is questionable.
Studies have found that many communities perceive special needs children to be asexual and emotionless.
They think that neither would such children understand about sex nor would they ever be sexually active, thus making sex education unnecessary for them.
However, while special needs children may have problems with social skills and may be unable to recognise normal social cues, this does not mean that they are not subject to the same feelings and urges regular children experience.
In fact, they need more guidance as it is a lot more difficult for them to understand what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour.
In addition, research has shown that special needs children are at higher risk and more vulnerable to sexual assault.
Parents of special needs children may never have thought that they would have to confront issues of sexuality with their child, and may react strongly and negatively when their child begins to express their sexuality.
They are likely to use negative reinforcement or punish their child for expressing their sexual needs in an inappropriate way, especially in public places.
This is why it is crucial for both schools and families to educate special needs children in a timely and appropriate manner on issues relating to sex.
More so than regular children, special needs children require more than the lecturing method of teaching.
It is important for these children to understand public and personal space, and the appropriate behaviours for each.
And while parents do have the larger role to play in such education, everyone in the child’s life has a part to play too.
To be honest, a child’s sexuality is rarely discussed during clinical consultations or parent-teacher meetings, unless it’s in the context of a specific sexual disorder, and even then, healthcare professionals tend to ignore it.
As a consequence, these children remain ignorant and may just continue to act on their natural urges, or are punished harshly enough until they repress themselves, to the detriment of their mental and emotional health.
While special needs children may express themselves differently, it is our duty as parents, teachers or healthcare professionals to guide them appropriately.
Among the issues to consider are the age at which sex education for a special needs child should begin, the amount of time needed to properly educate the child, the teaching content that would be appropriate for them, and how it is taught and by whom.
Shasvine Viknesh is a clinical Instructor/tutor at the School of Occupational Therapy in Perdana University. This article is courtesy of Perdana University, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. For more information, email email@example.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.