Health and Sexuality

A communication board for reporting abuse
A communication board for reporting abuse

Health and Sexuality

Health and Sexuality | Health | Sexuality

Some of the most-frustrating situations are often the most difficult-to-communicate topics (internal state, emotions, bodily functions/feelings). Many times the person needs long-term support to learn the vocabulary before being asked to use it in real-life situations.


  • Communicating about health is a common challenge for people with complex communication needs.

Physical and Medical

  • Expressing Pain & Describing Symptoms


  • Sharing emotions, both positive and negative

Problem Solving: What’s wrong?

How do we resolve a problem without adequate communication?  This can be especially difficult when the topic is considered to be private, or ‘off limits’.


A visual/AAC system first needs to contain the vocabulary to allow adults to discuss issues surrounding sexuality and relationships.  Caregivers may not feel comfortable hearing this vocabulary used. However, that does not mean that we take words away, or fail to make them available in the first place.

Therapy can target the use of socially expected language to initiate relationships and respond to partners. The ability to say No to unwanted contact is of utmost importance and needs to be modeled.

Risk Reduction
By modeling the ability to say no, or to communicate about unwanted advances, we may help reduce the risk that individuals with complex communication disorders become victims of sexual assault and abuse.

Teach and Encourage Boundaries & “Saying No” Skills

People with disabilities have the Right to Privacy and the right to determine their own relationships.  This includes the right to communicate about intimate subjects, but also the right to express discomfort and say NO.

Reporting Abuse

The use of robust Core  and fringe Vocabulary on a communication device can facilitate the Disclosing & Reporting of abuse. The ability to report harassment or abuse can provide people with disabilities access to communication with the justice system.

The following video, shared online by Gail Van Tatenhove, gives an example of how important the ability to report can be.

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Kathryn Helland

Kathryn is a certified speech-language pathologist and works with children and adults with complex communication needs. She has been with the TechOWL team since 2015 and is currently working on her doctorate. She would like to examine how to best support AAC users in higher education.

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