Sexuality is an important part of the overall wellness of all people, including those with disabilities

Introduction to supporting youth with disabilities to talk about sexuality

Although all Canadians have a right to comprehensive sexuality education, children and youth with disabilities do not always receive it. Children and youth with disabilities experience the physical, social and emotional changes that are part of growing into a healthy adult in similar ways to their typically developing or able-bodied siblings and peers.

Sometimes, however, they miss out on learning about sexuality as parents and service providers focus on other life skills and don’t feel supported to talk about sexuality.


Alex is 16 years old and one evening returns from bowling club with exciting news… she has a boyfriend! Alex is over the moon as she has said many times that she wants a relationship with a boy, someone to go on dates with and “hold hands.” She has also talked about getting married and having a baby, someone to love. Her older sister just had a baby and Alex is enjoying time helping to care for her new nephew. Once or twice she has said that having a baby would be the best thing in the world.


So Alex has a boyfriend? What does this even mean? Does Alex even know what having a boyfriend means and have they just held hands or is there more? Alex is not ready for a relationship, she struggles with others bullying her and has not even really had good friendships. Her disabilities mean that she is just not ready and she needs protecting. Having a boyfriend and getting married are completely out of the question, and having a child would be disastrous!


So Alex has a boyfriend… but does she really? Alex has a few friends at school and maybe at bowling club, but struggles with boundaries and sometimes gets bullied. Alex has talked about having a boyfriend for over a year now, just like many other youth her age. Her family are probably very concerned and do not want her to be involved in any dating relationships. Alex is very excited and needs some help to set limits in a relationship. That way dating can be healthy, safe and fun.

A quick word about terms

Sexuality is not just sexual intercourse or sexual activity. Sexuality includes:

  • Gender roles, identities and sexual orientation.
  • Body image.
  • Relationships with others.
  • How we grow and change over the years.
  • How our bodies work and how we reproduce.
  • Personality, communication, expression, and values.

For more information about what sexuality is, see the Sexuality Wheel.

Disabilities are unique, individual and often complex. According to Statistics Canada, in 2017, 13% of Canadian youth ages 15-24 were living with some kind of a disability (e.g., developmental, physical, or other).1

The World Health Organization2 considers the term disability;

“an umbrella term covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action, while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations.”

Good to know

Children and youth who receive sexuality education that focuses on their needs are less vulnerable to abuse and sexual exploitation and have healthier friendships and relationships.

Why develop TASCC?

We developed this website because Calgary parents and service providers of children and youth with disabilities told us they need more information to better support their children and youth. In a 2014 needs assessment of Calgary parents (n=7), 100% said they need more information about sexuality and relationships.

One parent said,

“It’s important to tell the children about the changes that are taking place in their body and it’s important that parents and staff are aware of how to make the children understand…”

Main topics

Parents identified several topics that they need more information on. These topics included:

Hygiene and self-care 100%
Female puberty and sexual development 86%
Reproduction and birth 71%
Personal boundaries 71%
Sexually transmitted infections 71%
Contraception and birth control 71%
Friendships 57%
Safer sex and condom use 57%
Dating relationships 57%
Male puberty and sexual development 29%

In a 2015 needs assessment of Calgary service providers (n=60) working with children and youth with intellectual disabilities, service providers identified the need for more information on the following topics:

Personal boundaries 90%
Male puberty and sexual development 85%
Female puberty and sexual development 78%
Dating relationships 70%
Hygiene and self-care 68%
Friendships 67%
Safer sex and condom use 42%
Reproduction and birth 42%
Sexually transmitted infections 38%
Contraception and birth control 37%

The goal of this website is to provide information that can be used with any child or youth with a disability, intellectual or physical, whatever their level of impairment.

 Children and youth with disabilities require “support, acceptance, understanding and compassion from their families [and caregivers] to transition through healthy development.”3

 We hope to provide parents, families and service providers with information and support to talk about sexuality with comfort and confidence to make this transition easier.

 The TASCC Supporting Youth with Disability portal is designed to help anyone who cares for or works with a child or youth with disabilities.


You know your child best and this website will help you understand how to work with your child and prepare them for growing up, healthy friendships, and healthy dating relationships. Many of the tips and strategies we share can be practiced at home.

Service Providers

You may be an educator, nurse, therapist, social worker or personal care assistant. This website is designed to help you to talk and teach about sexuality with the children and youth you work with and their parents. Many of the teaching approaches offered on this website can be practiced at school or in your agency and then worked on at home.

If an issue comes up at school (e.g., around personal boundaries and touching), families can help their child to practice behaviours that show healthy boundaries at home. Sometimes the issue will need lots of time and reinforcement to change and having every adult involved will help with success.


Each child is unique in their strengths and challenges and will need individual strategies to meet their needs. The best sexuality education happens when families and service providers work together.

Navigating TASCC

When you make your way around the website, you will see highlighted some practical tips and strategies to use with your child or youth. You will also see good to know facts that will help you to understand what your youth may be experiencing.

 Throughout this website, you will also see stories that encourage you to think about how the information can be used in real life. When you read the stories, we encourage you to think about the following:

  •  How did you react to the story?
  •  Why do you think you reacted that way?
  •  How can you best support this person?

Other features of this website include:

Tips for parents

 Parents may find it helpful to:

  • Use hands on examples to teach your child or youth at home and practice the information taught at school (e.g., figure out together where the private places in your home are and practice closing the door for privacy and safe boundaries).
  • Involve your child’s teachers and caregivers and share skills you are developing. This way, service providers can share success and feedback on changes that need to be made.
  • Talk about the rules and consequences of social media and technology. They may not have a phone or direct online access but their fiends might!
  • Try to talk about sexuality and healthy relationships as a part of daily life – use teachable moments when they come up in your family, on the news, or songs on the radio.
  • Choose times at home when your child is rested and free from distractions. Every discussion does not need to be the “big talk” and talking often helps your child know that you are there for them.

Tips for Service Providers

Service providers may find it helpful to:

  • Teach skills that can be practiced at home (e.g., hygiene routines).
  • Communicate with families to keep them updated on the skills and discussions you are having with youth. Be sure to share success as well as challenges.
  • Link sexuality with other parts of health and wellness that can be connected to other school or agency programming (e.g., learning about healthy foods and exercise is a big part of puberty and growing up).
  • Practice skills using role-play and problem-solving (e.g., when learning about personal space and boundaries, tour your facility with youth and figure out together which spaces are private and public).
1Morris, S., Fawcett, G., & Brisebois, L. (2018). Canadian Survey on Disability Reports. A demographic, employment and income profile of Canadians with disabilities aged 15 years and over, 2017. Retrieved from
 2World Health Organization. (2020). Health topics: Disabilities. Retrieved from
3Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). (2013). Questions & Answers: Sexual health education for youth with physical disabilities. Retrieved from