Dating and Sexuality among Minority Adolescents with Disabilities: An Application of Sociocultural Theory

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Adolescents with disabilities, American Indians, Hispanics, and African Americans are more likely to experience victimization and pregnancy as teens. This study explored ethnic and racial minority youth with disabilities’ dating and sexual experiences from the perspectives of social workers using Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory. Thirteen in-depth interviews were conducted with master’s degree–holding high school social work practitioners. Social workers described family beliefs and practices, socioeconomic status, special education, historical influences, and resiliency as aspects of adolescents’ lives that impacted their dating and sexuality. Social workers’ dialogue concerning family beliefs and attitudes toward abusive relationships were interpreted as internally oriented signs used by adolescents with disabilities to navigate their dating and sexuality. Socioeconomic status, family practices, and special education were interpreted as externally oriented meditational tools. Social workers reported that many adolescents experienced a history of violence, but that some adolescents adapted their cultural heritage by creating new values for themselves and engaged in healthier dating and sexual behaviors than their peers. Finally, although social workers were a source of support to adolescents with disabilities, they were also at times a portal for ethnocentric discourse.


Race; Disability; Sexuality; Adolescent; Culture; Special Education; Ethnicity

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