A Mixed Methods Study of Sexual Health Education for Students with Disabilities
AuthorTreacy, Anna Cecilia
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This convergent parallel mixed methods study explores the knowledge and preparation of general and special education teachers regarding the sexual health education for students with disabilities. People with disabilities experience the highest rates of mental, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Although numerous resources have been created to help improve the sexual health of people with disabilities, one major problem is access to sexual health information and education. Barriers to access directly concerning teachers include lack of teacher training programs and lack of teacher knowledge resulting in teacher concern, anxiety, and fear. The Sexual Health Education and Disability (SHED) teacher knowledge instrument was created for this study based on the sexual health education standards set forth by the ongoing Future of Sex Education Initiative. Licensed elementary, secondary, and special education teachers completed the SHED teacher knowledge instrument. The is the first study to compare teacher sexual health knowledge and preparation by license type, between students with and without disabilities, and across disability categories in relation to these sexual health education standards. The quantitative research findings show that teachers are neither prepared nor knowledgeable to teach sexual health education regardless of license type or demographic category within each component of the SHED teacher knowledge inventory. The qualitative research findings show that most teachers’ desire more training and knowledge, exhibit fear and concern for themselves, their students with and without disabilities, and support the inclusive practice of teaching comprehensive sexual health education regardless of disability. A minority of teachers do not support inclusive practice concerning sexual health education, do not want sexual health education within the school system, and believe strongly in abstinence-only sexual health education. The significant differences found between license type and demographic characteristics were integrated with the qualitative findings. The mixed method data integration results included teachers support and concern for the inclusion of students with disabilities despite low scores in the disability content knowledge and preparation questions. Special education teachers demonstrated the highest level of concern for students with disabilities, yet had low knowledge and preparation scores for teaching sexual health education. There is an inverse relationship between low knowledge and preparation scores and desire to attain the knowledge that is evidence-based to teach students with and without disabilities sexual health education. The results confirm previous study’s demonstration of barriers to access for students with and without disabilities and the need for systemic change. The need for systemic change to improve access aligns with critical disability theory. General and special education teachers need comprehensive sexual health education training in order to teach the essential sexual health knowledge to students with and without disabilities.