A psychoeducational group intervention to train parents to become sexuality educators for their children with mental retardation : an effectiveness study
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Increased public awareness of the impact of disability has resulted in the advancement of family-centered services to help parents address the developmental needs of their children with mental retardation. Little attention, however, has been afforded to facilitate parents’ understanding of children’s psychosexual development. Anxiety and fears about children’s sexuality often precludes parents from providing sexuality education. Currently, little information is available on how social workers can provide guidance and support to parents related to the sexual behavior and expression of their children with mental retardation. The present study contributes to this area of research through an evaluation of a five-week psychoeducational group intervention designed to help parents understand and promote their children's healthy sexual development. The intervention, Growing Up Aware, is derived from the theoretical constructs of Protection-Motivation theory and stigma theory. It is designed to impart emotional support and sexuality information using a task-centered approach. In order to test the effectiveness of the psychoeducational intervention, a Solomon Four-Group design was utilized with 76 parents of children, ages 5 to 14, with mild or moderate mental retardation. Standardized self-report scales were used to measure parental attitudes, frequency of communication, and self-confidence related to communication. Parents’ knowledge, comfort level with communication, communication of intended messages, and assessment of children’s sexual awareness were measured with instruments constructed for this study. Data analysis consisted of repeated measures analysis of variance using the restricted maximum likelihood method. Findings revealed that the intervention was highly effective in: 1) increasing parental knowledge and frequency of communication; 2) improving attitudes, comfort level, and ability to communicate intended messages about sexuality; and 3) enhancing children’s sexual awareness. Furthermore, with the exception of the self-confidence variable, the impact of the intervention was found to be very strong, with the majority of effect sizes being 1 standard deviation or greater. This study is an initial step towards developing effective theory-based interventions to train parents to become sexuality educators for their children with mental retardation. Areas for future research include the factors that influence parent-child communication about sexuality and the impact of sexuality education on the sexual behavior of children with mental retardation.