Dedicated to Building Community

Why Community Matters

Effective education happens when there is both an effort on the part of an individual to learn and a welcoming community supporting and embracing the new skills and perspectives being learned.

Our vision is to create communities where students with disabilities are supported with honest dialogue and genuine engagement and educational opportunities. Whole Selves supports community development by teaching instructors how to best support their students. We also support teachers and parents in on-line communities.

The Whole Selves Story

In 2004, concerned that their children with disabilities were missing out on the experience of having friends, a group of families started Whole Children. Whole Children is a social/recreation center that welcomes families and students of all abilities, philosophies, and cultures. Founded on the concept of community, Whole Children is a place where friendships are built – a place where relationships are real for individuals who have historically been seen as incapable of having relationships.

By 2008, Whole Children was a thriving organization with hundreds of families. As our children matured and the community grew, we saw that they were beginning to experience puberty. We searched for assistance in guiding us, as parents and educators, so we could help them through the complexity of becoming adults.

We found neither experts nor curriculum materials that addressed this unique population. It was quickly apparent that the traditional curriculum and approach to sexuality education was too narrow, focused on only the biology and mechanics of sexuality, and was introduced too late in the process. The building-blocks of having boundaries and self-esteem were rarely included.

At the same time, we began to see the risks associated with our students not being offered appropriate curriculum. Among other things, our students did not know the names of basic anatomy, that their body was their own, how to ask for and give consent, or the ability to set boundaries. We understood that all people, including those with intellectual disabilities and autism, have an inherent right as human beings to experience and exercise choice regarding their own bodies and meaningful relationships with others, casual or intimate.

We tackled this task in the same way did everything at Whole Children. We created our own materials, breaking down each concept into smaller and smaller components, looking at the many different learning styles and challenges of students with intellectual disabilities and autism. This process generated an enormous body of work that we used in different ways, with students of different ages, experiences and abilities, and in different settings.

For more than 10 years, we refined our approaches and collected anecdotal evidence of the success of our curriculum and our approach. We expanded into Massachusetts schools where we taught in classrooms, as well as teaching classes in our community facility. We provided assistance to human service organizations and worked with staff in residential settings. Even with our success, we recognized the limitation of relying on our teachers, and the geography of where we lived.

In 2018, with the support of our parent non-profit, Pathlight, we partnered with the graduate school at Mt. Holyoke College in a rigorous process to vet our materials and curriculum as evidence-informed and to ensure it met standards of quality. We worked to synthesize our experiences as educators and parents to create a sexuality curriculum that others can follow with our introductory training.

We piloted the curriculum with a diverse group of schools, refining the content, organization of materials and instruction to provide maximum flexibility and resources to educators, professionals and parents in any setting.