The article below is a personal account written by Jason Conover, PEIR Program Manager for AHRC New York City’s Family and Clinical Services. Jason is currently an advisory board member for Project SHINE—the Sexual Health Innovation Network for Equitable Education with Youth with Intellectual Disabilities.

Facilitating Group Discussions on Sexual Health Topics

My name is Jason Conover and I work under a city contract grant called PEIR (Prevention, Education, Information, and Referral) housed within the Family and Clinical Services Department at AHRC New York City. The grant provides evidence-based practice prevention education group programming to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). One of the groups I currently offer focuses on sex education and healthy relationships and meets on Zoom every Friday from 2:00 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. I started the group in 2020 and used the National Council on Independent Living and Rooted in Rights facilitator guide as a starting point to begin group discussion. I found that the guide was initially helpful to provide a framework and to structure the discussion via screen share while everyone got to know one another through a ritual group check in asking “How was your week? and “What are you planning to do for fun over the weekend?” to break the ice. Then I would screen share and show a video on YouTube from AMAZE or Psych2go. These short-animated videos involve scenarios between young adults depicting issues around sexual health and wellness. After watching the video, I engage the group in a series of open-ended questions to process the information viewed. Then, I close with a positive affirmation call and response to leave the group feeling grounded and to continue their day oriented towards positivity.

Supporting the Important Work of Project SHINE

Last year, I applied and was accepted as an advisory board member for Project SHINE, a partnership between Planned Parenthood of Greater New York and six other community-based organizations serving individuals with I/DD to advocate for better quality sexual health information and care. The mission of Project SHINE is to ensure that young people with I/DD have access to comprehensive quality sexual health information and services and to create an innovative tool that will enhance the learning experience for young people with I/DD who are interested in expanding their knowledge in the areas of sexual health and wellness. I use my years of clinical experience, my time as a creative arts therapist and a substance abuse counselor, and my interest in sexual health equity to help inform my contributions to Project SHINE as an advisory board member for year two of the project. The focus of year two is to innovate sexual health tools for youth with disabilities. Most importantly is the work done in year one informs the work in year two; the data and information collected in the first year helps inform the innovation and prototypes.

Collaborating with the Sexual Health Innovation Network

Currently, the Project SHINE Advisory Board is in the middle of a three-day sexual health tool creation lab. I really enjoyed the experience of working with all the stakeholders, collaborating and sharing ideas in small break out rooms and in the larger discussion room over Zoom. Stakeholders include advocates and youth with disabilities, other professionals in the field of human services, self-advocates, and parents, all coming together to share ideas and collaborate on this project. It has been a challenging and rewarding experience to make space for all voices to be heard and come to a consensus to ensure meaningful collaboration from all stakeholders. The work done in the three-day lab will help inform the group who will move forward ideas into prototypes. I have been reminded of the power we have as human beings to actively listen, create space for others and share ideas in a truly creative and collaborative environment and I look forward to sharing all the great work that will come out of Project SHINE in the next year.

Interested in learning more or getting involved with Project SHINE? Visit the official Project SHINE website for more information.