Puberty education keeps intellectually disabled teenage girls in school – Melissa Chunderdooth

At the 2018 Symposium on Teacher Education for Inclusion, Emerald Conference Centre, on 11 July, Melissa Chunderdooth and Dr Jean Fourie presented a paper outlining the benefits of puberty education for teenage intellectually disabled girls. The cognitive impairments associated with intellectual disabilities hinder adolescent girls from fully understanding the physical and psychological changes that occur during puberty. This often results in personal neglect, health risks and school absences during menstruation. The school curriculum focuses on the basics of reproductive anatomy and fails to provide key information on how to manage menstrual hygiene, resulting in some girls receiving inappropriate information to manage menstruation and sexual reproductive health. Additionally, poverty makes it difficult for many families to acquire monthly items for menstrual hygiene. In this study an educational programme was developed to assist mildly intellectually disabled female learners with puberty education. Through action research data was collected from the experiences of a group of selected adolescent girls who attended a workshop on puberty, menstrual hygiene and safe practices in sexual reproductive health. The workshop explained the use of ‘Dignity Dreams’ washable, reusable sanitary wear packs. The instruction manual and sexual education programme was carefully designed for easier understanding by girls with intellectual impairments. This proactive strategy attempted to counter prevalent negative connotations around female puberty and keep the teenage girls in school every month. Puberty education policies should emphasise the need for individual learning around menstrual hygiene that promotes safe and healthy well-being.