May 10, 2016
Grant Proposal: Preferences in Children with Severe Special Needs
I wish to look at gender and sexuality identification in children with special needs, especially children who are nonverbal or non-communicative. I have been working with children with special needs in a classroom at Community School of Davidson for about two years now. All of the children are low functioning. However, what people often do not think about is no matter their mental functioning, the onset of puberty and the influx of hormones still occur around the teenage years. Often this change is confusing for the children and of course they do not function high enough to know what is appropriate behavior in public versus in private.
One of the children seems to have a particular attachment to me, as well as other young women. This got me thinking about sexuality and gender identity. I figure if we can research children who are nonverbal, we can begin to attribute innate desires to the “born this way” debate. It is unlikely that these children are aware of heterosexuality and pressures from society, allowing us to truly examine how gender and sexuality works from a developmental level.
Ethical concerns would need to be addressed and this proposal would need to be approved by the Institutional Review Board. This study would simply have on male and female psychology students entering the classroom as observers. Observers would self-report who seemed to cling to them or stare at them. Any sexual acts that take place, such as children beginning to touch themselves, would also be reported. Since these children are often around women, the inclusion of men in the study would need to be introduced to children before observation so that we know children are not simply attracted to novelty.
It is important for observers to be accurate, so we would train them on how to act and what to observe and record. Observers would also need to be dressed simply, so that attention is not based on attraction to color, texture, etc. Explicitly sexual advances would need to be noted because attraction to women could be in relation to their caring nature or sound of their voice rather than sexuality. Motions and actions of the children would be categorized by scorers into types of attraction, such as sexual attraction versus attraction more generally.
This study would hopefully further explain research on gender and sexuality and the origins of sexuality and gender identity. Observers would be psychology students interested in the study. Observers and scorers would be paid for their efforts as research assistants, which is what the grant would be necessary for.