Every Wednesday The CSPH highlights a Sexuality Professional you should keep your eye on. Their backgrounds are very diverse in order to bring attention to the wide variety of amazing people working in the field. This week we bring you Nancy Nowell!
1. What do you do in the field of sexuality?
I teach relationship skills, sexuality and sexual health to adolescents and adults who are on the autism spectrum, have Asperger’s and/or intellectual disabilities.
2. Where are you based out of?
I work in the 5 county Philadelphia area in Pennsylvania.
3. What is your focus? What do you do?
My focus is to reduce the incidence of sexual assault, prevent contact with the criminal justice system, teach healthy relationship skills, and provide accurate sexuality information. Many people with cognitive disabilities learn about sexuality and relationships from television or the internet. They are sexually assaulted 2 to 3 times more often than people without disabilities and are getting arrested because they don’t understand peer and romantic relationships.
I teach understanding, developing, and experiencing healthy relationships because this is not a skill that many people with cognitive disabilities learn on their own. What I do is:
- Teach people with disabilities relationships skills: I start every new class or group with the questions, “Am I a friend? What is a stranger? How do you know if someone is your friend?” Most middle / high school students and adults that I teach can’t answer these questions correctly. This is where I start, understanding basic relationships.
Teaching these skills is complex. How do you teach someone to flirt? People with cognitive disabilities need to be able to recognize when someone is and is not interested in them. Every small interaction needs to be thought through, taught, and practiced.
- Develop teaching materials: There are few quality teaching materials that teach romantic relationship skills, intimate, personal relationships, sexual health and sex for adults and adolescents with cognitive disabilities.
The teaching materials I have developed for myself cover a wide range of topics including; First impressions, Appearance matters, How to make friend, Peer relationships, Talking to a girl/boy that you think is cute, What flirting looks like and how to flirt, Beginning romantic relationships, Hanging out, Dating, Cheating, Breaking up, What an emotionally abusive relationship looks like, What is sexual abuse, Sexual abuse risk reduction skills, Sexuality, Sexual health, Boundaries, Stalking vs. crush, Communication skills, Mixed messages, Decision-making, Reading body language, How to start and maintain a conversation, how to tell when someone is or is not interested in you and understanding relevant rules and local laws.
- Teach families and professionals: Families, teachers, residential staff, and other professionals are often hesitant to deal with romantic relationships, so they just say NO romantic relationships are allowed. Teaching professionals and families how to discuss/teach relationships, safety, and intimacy skills is one way to keep people with disabilities safer and improve their quality of life. This is very different than teaching a health class in middle or high school; the issues are much more complex.
- Help organizations develop relationship/sexuality policies and understand all relevant laws. Policies are necessary so everyone knows the rules in their organizations. Many people do not know the sexual assault laws are in their state. These laws define when a person with cognitive disabilities can and cannot give consent to a sexual relationship. Many professionals don’t know sexual abuse rules and laws until someone gets hurt or arrested. These problems are preventable with proper policies and training.
4. What are your particular goals and passions in the field?
My passion is helping families. I want to assist families who have a child with a cognitive disability navigate puberty, adolescent relationships and sexual health. I support parents and their teens through the landmine of adolescent relationships. and teach healthy relationship skills including intimate and romantic relationships.
I also support teachers; therapists and other educators address relationship and sexuality issues with the people that they work with.
5. Why did you choose to work in this field?
I have worked with people with cognitive disabilities for 35 years; few professionals are addressing the high rate of sexual assault, problematic or sex offending behavior, and/or are teaching healthy relationship skills. Many people I work with have undiagnosed PTSD and have been victimized again and again. Teaching sex education to the disability community is sexual abuse risk reduction.
6. Where did you go for school/training?
BSW – Social Work – Temple University
MPA – Masters Public Administration – Penn State
MEd – Sexuality Education – Widener University
CSE – Sexuality Education Certification – 2012
7. Do you have any literature out (websites, articles)?
I have started a company, Social Signals LLC to make and sell quality, respectful teaching materials. My website is SocialSignalsED.com.
Our first product is Mike’s Crush, a 113-page curriculum and DVD that demonstrates the difference between having a crush and stalking; while teaching boundaries and healthy relationship skills. The DVD and curriculum cost $159.00. We have also developed Mike’s Crush for Families. This includes a booklet covering the same content in the curriculum, but in a way that is useful for families. We are selling the booklet and Mike’s Crush DVD for $29.00. The Mike’s Crush curriculum and DVD has been reviewed by the American Journal of Sexuality Education. The review should be published within a month
Our Facebook page has many good articles and a wide range of information.
I presented a Webinar for Autism Training Solutions (ATS) June 19th and 21st on Teaching Safe Friendship and Romantic Relationship Skills to Teens on the Spectrum. You can watch the webinar by going to their website section on webinars.
8. What would you recommend to future professionals attempting to get into the field?
You must be able to work with people who have a wide range of cognitive disabilities, as well as understand sexuality, sexual health, consent, sexual abuse, writing policies, and sex offending behavior.
Unfortunately most people do not want to hire you to talk about happy sex; they want people who can manage a crisis and solve problems.
9. What is the most challenging aspect for you working in this career?
There are no full time jobs that do this work. Pretty much you have to be self employed which at times is tough. But there is a huge need for these skills; teachers and families are struggling everyday with difficult, complex and at times dangerous relationship and sexuality situations.
10. One must read-what would you recommend? Why?
Temple Grandin’s Thinking in Pictures. The incidence of autism has now reached 1:88 births. The need for people to teach sexuality, romantic relationships, intimacy, peer relationships, boundaries, flirting, consent, rules, and laws, etc. to the autism community is huge.
However, to teach adolescents and adults safe, healthy relationships skills you have to be able to think the way they think. This can be very hard to do. The best way to learn how to do this is to read books written by people on the autism spectrum.
NOTE: We do not necessarily endorse or agree with all the opinions of our featured Hump Day Heroes. If you have concerns over someone who is currently featured, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.