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National expert helps caregivers and their disabled children navigate puberty

DS Connect

Workshop set for Jan. 10-11 at Estrella Mountain Community College

Puberty can be a difficult time for any child, but what if that child has a developmental or intellectual disability? Enter Terri Couwenhoven. The author, presenter, and certified sexuality educator will be at Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) this weekend to help these children and their parents and caregivers navigate this delicate topic.

Hosted by the DSNetwork of Arizona and the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, the workshop “Bodies, Boundaries & Puberty: How to Address Questions About Sexuality for Adolescents with Special Needs” takes place Jan. 10 and 11 in the Estrella Conference Center, 3000 N. Dysart Road, Avondale. Tickets cost $15 per family. The event is open to the public.

“The onset of puberty is not delayed in people with developmental and intellectual disabilities,” said Jill Nico, Student Services Specialist Senior for Disability Resources & Services at Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC). “Parents and caregivers are often unsure how to communicate to their children about puberty and how the body changes and what to expect during this time.”

The Jan. 10 session, “All About Puberty,” is for these parents and caregivers.

“They will gain expert knowledge and practical application (including visual tools) to teach youths with cognitive and developmental disabilities how to transition smoothly through the pubescent years,” Nico said.

The session runs from 6 to 8 p.m. and respite is provided for their children.

The Jan. 11 sessions are for parents and caregivers along with their children ages 9 to 15. “Bodies, Boundaries & Puberty: Parents/Daughter Workshop” is from 9 to 11 a.m. and “Bodies, Boundaries & Puberty: Parents/Son Workshop” is from noon to 2 p.m. Lunch is provided from 11 a.m. to noon.

“Teens and tweens with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities will be direct participants in the Jan. 11 workshops with the support of their parents, guardians, and caregivers,” Nico said. “Being included in the initial training sets the foundation for continued success.”

Youths with cognitive and developmental disabilities benefit from extra support during times of change, including puberty, Nico said.

“They may need visual cues and lessons that foster additional support and repetition to gain knowledge, confidence, and independence,” she said. “This workshop teaches a proven methodology developed by a national sexuality expert and parent of a child with Down syndrome, Terri Couwenhoven.”

Couwenhoven has worked in the field of sexuality since leaving college. Her first job was at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin working in the Community Education Department as a sex educator developing and implementing sexuality programs for diverse audiences, including people with intellectual disabilities. 

“It didn’t take me long to figure out how much I enjoyed working with this population,” Couwenhoven said.

In 1989, her first child, Anna, was born with Down syndrome.

“Merging my expertise in the area of sexuality with my interest and passion for supporting people with Intellectual disabilities seemed a natural fit,” Couwenhoven said.

In 1996, she started TC services — a business that involves resource development and training for individuals with developmental disabilities of all kinds and the people who support them.

“EMCC is so proud to partner with the Down Syndrome Network Arizona and the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council to bring national expert Terri Couwenhoven to the West Valley for the first time,” Nico said. “Through this workshop, EMCC continues its tradition of bringing cutting-edge education and training to the West Valley that meets the needs of the community.”

To register for the two-day workshop, go to

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