Promoting Healthy Sexuality and Safeguarding in Youth
who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)
Guidelines for Parents, Teachers and Service
In order to stop the cycle of abuse that is prevalent among
people who have disabilities, families, friends, teachers and all of us
who interact with youth who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication
(AAC) can play a role in reducing the risks for abuse. We can carry out
this responsibility by creating safe environments, by providing information
and ways of communicating about sexuality and abuse, and by encouraging
a sense of personal dignity and self-worth.
If necessary, please ask your AAC clinician for ways to adapt these suggestions
to the needs and skills of the AAC user you know.
- Encourage the development of self-advocacy and assertiveness:
- Provide lots of opportunities for the AAC user to make choices,
and respect her choices.
- Encourage the AAC user to make decisions and solve problems.
- Encourage and accept the AAC user’s right to communicate
“No” (in situations ranging from choices about leisure
activities to unwanted sexual advances).
- Acknowledge and talk about any uneasiness the AAC user may have
regarding staff, family members, teachers, bus drivers, etc.
- Validate the AAC user’s right to have disagreements with
others – particularly those in authority.
- Allow the AAC user a sense of control over what happens to his
body by asking permission when providing hygiene care or lifting or
touching any part of his body. Support him in directing the people
who provide daily services such as dressing, getting up, assisting
with meals, etc.
- Encourage the AAC user to develop friendships with people outside
the family and immediate residence, so that she has a wide social
network in place.
- Encourage self esteem and confidence:
- Use lots of positive language and praise.
- Facilitate opportunities for developing friendships.
- Consider introducing the AAC user to an adult mentor who has a
disability, so that she has positive role models in her life.
- Provide information about healthy sexuality:
- Locate resources about sexuality and people who have disabilities.
For a list of resources, see the Resources
section of the Speak Up Web site, or contact your local independent
living centre, consumer organization, service provider, or clinic
- Provide opportunities for the AAC user to learn and communicate
- Provide the AAC user with the vocabulary and support she needs
to communicate about sexuality.
- Do not assume that the AAC user knows the basics. Make sure that
he knows and can communicate about:
- body parts of both sexes
- boundaries of touch and privacy
- human sexuality, reproduction and the birth process
- sexual orientation and identities
- menstruation and nocturnal emission
- sexual pleasuring and intimacy
- masturbation and sexual feelings
- relationship development (platonic, dating, commitment,
- birth control and sexually transmitted diseases
- unwanted touch (and the ability to communicate “no”
to unwanted touch)
- Encourage the development of personal safety skills:
- Encourage in the AAC user a sense of personal privacy for her
body during intimate hygiene routines, as well as a sense of personal
property and space.
- Discuss with the AAC user the appropriate boundaries and touch
practices with strangers, acquaintances, friends, family members,
- Support the AAC user in learning safety awareness and skills concerning
daily activities – eating, drinking, being in a known/unknown
community, meeting strangers, etc.
- Discuss imagined and real-life scenarios where the AAC user’s
safety might be at risk, and assist him in determining what actions
he could take. Ensure that he has the communication tools and skills
to take action.
Speak Up Project 2004.
Sections of this document have been adapted with permission from The
Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
For more information, consult the other resources on the Speak Up Web site:
displays (pictures and text)
safety stories from adults who use AAC
about healthy sexuality and safeguarding