Sexuality and the Adolescent with Developmental Disabilities

  • A. Maurine Packard
Part of the Current Clinical Neurology book series (CCNEU)


Developmental disabilities include a range of disorders whose common theme is a deficit in functioning that hinders, but does not necessarily preclude, the achievement of independence and success as an adult. Although this chapter specifically addresses spina bifida, cerebral palsy, and mental retardation, there are hundreds of other disorders. Individually rare, developmental disabilities as a group are not uncommon. Of children younger than 18 yr, 10% have a developmental disability—an estimated six million children in America (1,2). Although families, schools, and health care providers focus on disabilities, these children are more like their peers in most areas of functioning, including sexuality, than different from them. Only rare disorders interfere with the hormonal and bodily changes of puberty. The adolescent years are characterized by astonishing physical, cognitive, and sexual maturation. For many teenagers and their parents, the transition from a dependent, prepubertal child to an independent, mature adult with sexual needs is formidable, as long-established patterns of interactions change. For the teen with a developmental disability, the continuing dependence on the family for support and the focus on medical issues often means that the transition to full independence cannot occur at a time when puberty continues apace. These adolescents are exposed to the same sexually oriented popular culture and have sexual drives and interests that are undiminished compared to those of their peers. Too often, however, their growing sexuality is ignored or suppressed. Recent publications have addressed the need for children with developmental disabilities and their families to receive appropriate sexuality education (3,4).


Health Care Provider Sexual Abuse Sexual Activity Mental Retardation Cerebral Palsy 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

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  • A. Maurine Packard

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