What is the Developmental Chart?  

The Developmental Chart contains an overview of sexually suggestive behaviour that may be displayed in each age category, from 0 up to and including 17 years old.

The Chart is based on scientific literature on the sexual development of young people.

As a professional, the examples given on the Developmental Chart will help you to:

  • correctly assess sexual behaviour at a specific age; 
  • respond appropriately to sexual behaviour in children and young people.

The Developmental Chart is an additional tool used in combination with the Sensoa Flag System

How is the Developmental Chart used?

You can use the Developmental Chart to look up what types of sexual behaviour often occur at each age. The chart includes harmless behaviour, and transgressive forms of sexual behaviour

Each type of behaviour described is assigned a flag:

  • green flag: an acceptable sexual situation
  • yellow flag: a moderately transgressive sexual situation 
  • red flag: a seriously transgressive sexual situation 
  • black flag: a severely transgressive sexual situation 

These flags are assigned according to the 6 criteria of the Sensoa Flag System.

Each of the flags is associated with an educational response that will help you to respond appropriately.

Behaviour that is repeated following corrective measures is assigned a different flag. 

A yellow flag will become a red flag and a red flag will become a black flag. If the behaviour is repeated following corrective measure, it means that the person involved is knowingly acting transgressively and this will be regarded as more serious. 

We adapt the rule in the case of children with a disharmonious development profile or for other reasons: 

  • the person is young; 
  • the person has a disability; 
  • the person's developmental level is low. 

Even after a corrective measure has been taken, these types of children will not (yet) know where the boundary lies and will sometimes need more time to learn new behaviour. 

Looking up sexual behaviour by age in the Developmental Chart 

How is the Developmental Chart used when a person has a disharmonious profile?

What is a disharmonious profile?

A child or young person is said to have a disharmonious development profile if their intellectual, emotional and physical development are not at the same level.

Emotional development in particular often develops more slowly. That is why children or young people may still display sexual behaviour associated with a lower developmental level. 

In children with a disability, that is often the case. Children who have been the victims of trauma also frequently have a disharmonious development profile. 

Some examples:

  • A 16-year-old boy who suffers from autism has the cognitive level of an 8-year-old child, but the emotional development level of a 3-year-old. 
  • A 7-year-old girl who has been a victim of trauma has a normal level of cognitive development, but an emotional development level comparable to a 1.5-year-old infant. 

How do we assess behaviour in a person with a disharmonious profile? 

  • On the Developmental Chart, look for the age category in which the child's developmental age lies.  
  • Look to see whether the child's behaviour is understandable, based on their cognitive or emotional development.  
  • If the child's behaviour can be explained based on their development, this does not mean that the behaviour is therefore acceptable. The disharmonious development profile does not fully explain the child's (transgressive) behaviour. Other factors may also be at play. The behaviour may be triggered by certain stimuli or experiences. Or it may, for example, be reinforced by amused or angry responses from their environment. 
  • It is important to identify the child's underlying needs: what does the behaviour say about this child and what does the child actually need? 

For example

A 10-year-old boy has a cognitive and emotional level more or less at that of a toddler. Due to his developmental age, he shows a lot of interest in women's breasts. Just like a toddler, he grabs the breasts of girls and women around him.  

This boy's interest in breasts can be explained on the basis of his developmental level. It is not an obsession or an uncontrollable urge, but a type of behaviour that is development-specific. 

Nevertheless, a 10-year-old is not a toddler. People around him will respond differently than that of a 2-year-old child. 

What is more, this 10-year-old boy already has some life experience. Over the years, he has learned that he will get attention if he grabs women's breasts. This behaviour has partly been reinforced and amplified as a result of the (negative) responses from those around him. 

How should we respond in the case of a person with a disharmonious profile?

  • Look for the cognitive and emotional developmental age of the child.
  • Then look at the Developmental Chart to identify the extent to which the behaviour observed is development-specific. In specific terms: which flag is assigned to the behaviour?   
  • The colour of the flag should guide your reaction.   

Or you can approach it the other way around:

  • On the Developmental Chart, identify the age category to which the behaviour observed belongs. 
  • Does the age category of the behaviour observed not correspond to the chronological age of the child? Then this will help you gain an insight into the disharmonious profile of the child.   
  • Look up which flag is assigned to the behaviour. The colour of the flag should guide your reaction.

I work with persons with a disability, which version of the Flag System would be best to use?

  • The version ‘Buiten de lijnen’ (the book is only available in Dutch) has been developed for children and young people with specific needs. One of these needs is having a disability. 'Buiten de lijnen’ (in English: Outside the lines) is used alongside the book 'Sensoa Flag System for children and young people'. It provides an explanation of a disharmonious development profile in which the different domains of development (cognitive, physical, emotional) are not at the same level. It also provides information about performing a behaviour analysis for persons with a low developmental level and limited understanding of language. 
  • For adults with additional learning needs, you can also work gradually according to their cognitive or emotional developmental level. If their cognitive or emotional developmental level is situated on the level of children and young people, the 'Sensoa Flag System for children and young people' can provide some insight. Please note: behaviour that is appropriate to development is not by definition acceptable behaviour. You should also take account of chronological age and the functioning level of the adult. 

Which signals indicate situations of concern? 

An exclamation mark indicates a situation that demands extra vigilance. Bear this in mind when you assess certain behaviour or an emotional expression, and determine a response.

  • The behaviour may signal sexual abuse or another underlying problem.
  • These individuals are extra vulnerable and may find it hard to know where the boundaries are.
  • There is a risk they will not be supported. For example, no privacy or a high likelihood of negative reactions from those around them.

What should you do if there is an exclamation mark?  

  • Keep a closer eye on things.
  • Look in more depth at possible causes of the behaviour.
  • The behaviour may be a signal of underlying problems, for example, if the person displaying the behaviour is or has been a victim themselves.
  • Offer more proximity and support.
  • Consider all persons involved.

Based on what criteria are the flags assigned? 

Green flag

The descriptions for the green flag are situations that are acceptable according to all criteria of the Sensoa Flag System and that occur in about 20% of children and young people.

Researchers then assume that this plays a functional role in the development of children and young people.

It includes behaviour:

  • where the boundaries for mutual consent, voluntary engagement and equality were not crossed;
  • which logically belongs to the developmental phase;
  • which is acceptable for the context and has no negative impact on the person exhibiting the behaviour and the persons involved.

Yellow, red and black flag 

The other flags indicate behaviour for which at least 1 of the 6 criteria is not acceptable. For example, if the behaviour is not sufficiently private, or if there is too much inequality between the persons involved.

We generally indicate for which criterion boundaries were crossed in this regard.

In the event of repeated transgressive behaviour, a yellow flag becomes red, or a red flag becomes black. We then assume that the environment has taken corrective action and that the children or young people have understood the indicated boundaries.

The Developmental Chart is not a normative list

The Developmental Chart is a list of behaviours that may or may not be considered appropriate for the sexual development at a certain age. The tool helps professionals or parents to look at the sexual behaviour of children and young people and helps to place it within the sexual development. It is not a normative list: the list does not say what should happen at a certain age. So, as in many cases, customization is needed and we should have a good impression of the capabilities, maturity and comprehension of the young people in front of us. Therefore, what is acceptable for one person may not be acceptable for someone else, even in the same situation. The list is a touchstone, not a guide.    

The list was compiled in 2012 and modified here and there.  A thorough revision is urgently needed. Quite a lot of recent research has been published on young people's experiences of sexuality - and in many different languages. Word usage and aspects such as gender experience have also evolved in the meantime. The Developmental Chart is mainly based on western research published in English. We have translated little or no research from other languages. Until recently, translation modules were not sufficiently reliable in terms of correctly translating the sometimes nuanced sexual behaviours. A thorough reworking is desirable in this regard as well. This is a labour-intensive and complex work. Sensoa is therefore looking for a partner and for additional resources to adapt the list to new data. 

Download the Developmental Chart as PDF

This document covers all behaviours, emotional expressions and methods of responding at any age. It also contains the sources of the scientific literature on which the developmental chart is based.