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Meet Natalia Geldin – Sexuality Educator, Community Organizer and Social Practice Artist serving the Los Angeles Autistic Community

Today we’d like to introduce you to Natalia Geldin.

Natalia, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My service to the autistic and developmentally/intellectually disabled communities began out of necessity. I felt there were few cool, dynamic social opportunities for my autistic teenage daughter, Sophia, and peers like her, who are non-speaking, use AAC to communicate (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) and thrive with a high level of direct support to navigate their daily lives.

I wanted to create an experiential program that wasn’t deficit driven or confined to a clinical setting- as many social skills programs designed for autistic youth typically are. SPARK was created with the intention of supporting autistic young adults’ unique perspectives and respecting and celebrating individual differences. Another important component of SPARK is that the program’s events are hosted throughout the Los Angeles community in collaboration with a diverse range of professionals and creatives to connect and expand our participants’ as well as our collaborators’ communities.

Creating and hosting these community social programs for teens and young adults with autism and/or developmental and intellectual disabilities exposed another unaddressed need within the community- the need for comprehensive sexuality education for teens and young adults with disabilities. Within these structured social settings, I observed my daughter and her peers developing and exhibiting an interest in exploring their changing bodies, an increased curiosity and/or attraction to their peer(s), and sexual arousal with seemingly little understanding of how to navigate these new feelings and experiences. I observed parents struggling with how to inform and support their child’s rapidly unfolding transformation.

I decided it was imperative to bring comprehensive sexuality education and support to autistic youth and their families, caregivers, and staff. I felt that it was not only important to provide this education to my daughter but to her community as well; to ensure a safe, informed and supportive space for her and her peers to explore this new chapter in their lives.

I sought out sexual self-advocates and educators to collaborate with and host sexuality workshops for young adults with disabilities, their families, caregivers, and support staff. I have completed sexuality educator training with Elevatus and am now providing private sexuality education consulting for individuals with disabilities and their families.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It hasn’t always been a smooth road- the surprising barrier along this path thus far has actually been parents. In an effort to protect their child (which is absolutely understandable), many parents will entirely omit discussing sexuality with their child or will actively prohibit their child from learning about or exploring their sexuality.

Many parents unknowingly harbor internalized biases regarding sexuality and disability that is projected onto their child- they either infantilize their child by viewing them as a perpetual child without regard for their biological age, assume their child is unable to understand sexuality due to their cognitive disability, assume their child doesn’t desire intimacy (is asexual), that if they do teach them about sexuality that their child will become hypersexual, or outright feel that people with disabilities should not be permitted to experience intimate relationships or sex. This willful ignorance actually puts their child directly in harm’s way- leading to increased risk of abuse, exploitation, STIs, unintended pregnancy, interaction with law enforcement, etc.

One of my primary goals as a sexuality educator is to help parents recognize how they are ensuring their child’s safety by providing them with comprehensive sexuality education. For parents who may doubt their child’s ability to comprehend the information presented, I emphasize that the education we provide is based upon their child’s biological age, not by what the parent may perceive as their “cognitive age”. The difference is HOW we present the information. Sexuality is a human right recognized by the World Health Organization- every human should feel empowered to navigate their sexuality healthfully and on their own terms, free of bias or discrimination.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with SPARK – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
SPARK is comprised of three programs serving teens and young adults with autism and/or developmental and intellectual disabilities and their families, caregivers and support staff in Los Angeles: private home-based sexuality education/consulting, community-based sexuality workshops and conferences, and a social club for teens and young adults.

In my private practice, I design customized sexuality education curriculum based upon the individual’s unique profile, needs, and values. I support families, caregivers and their staff in becoming more comfortable discussing sexuality and developing strategies of how to present this information to their loved one with learning differences. It is imperative that we break through societal barriers that inhibit families from providing this vital education so their loved one is equipped to make safe, informed decisions regarding their sexuality.

At our community sexuality workshops and conferences, I collaborate with sexual self-advocates and educators to lead discussions on topics such as developing friendships, dating, boundaries, consent, body rights, intimacy, gender and sexual identity, self-determination, etc. for teens and young adults with disabilities. We also provide programming for parents, caregivers and support staff in identifying and understanding social stigmas and stereotypes regarding sexuality and disability, dismantling ableism, addressing parent/caregiver/support staff fears and concerns, and strategies for supporting their disabled loved one’s emerging sexuality.

SPARK Social Club is a platform for teens and young adults with autism and/or developmental and intellectual disabilities to explore and define their interests and relationships on their own terms. The social club is a series of skills based workshops and social events to spark new personal interests and connections for our participants. Each social club series is unique and has its own focus. In our 2019 SPARK series, participants gained the skills and confidence to prepare, plan and host their own community dance party! Our participants attended workshops on friendships, dating, dancing, style, grooming and party planning to help them prepare and host their big event.

SPARK Social Club is unique in that it doesn’t take place at a fixed location- our workshops and events are hosted throughout Los Angeles; introducing our participants to new environments, experiences, and people they might not have otherwise had an opportunity to interact with in their immediate network/community. At each of our workshops and events, we collaborate with a diverse range of professionals, creatives, and visionaries within the Los Angeles community- musicians, activists, wellness practitioners, hair stylists, dance instructors, makeup artists, fashion stylists, artists, photographers, self advocates, etc- to present adapted curriculum that all of our participants are able to access and enthusiastically participate in. SPARK Social Club provides a platform for these communities to connect, collaborate, expand and enrich their community.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
The next SPARK Social Club series will be launching in spring 2020, with a focus on supporting and empowering teens and young adults with disabilities’ bodily integrity, self-determination and sexual self-advocacy. We are also considering developing a curriculum so the SPARK model may be replicated in communities across the US and beyond! Families from all over the globe have been reaching out to us expressing a need for this dynamic programming and support in their communities.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Jon Delouz, Matthew Geldin, Jorge Ambrocio, Marielle Stobie, Eric Lodwick

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