This is a post by one of my Spring 2013 interns, Rebecca. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section. – Shanna
Individuals with autism need sexual education. But how and what do we teach?
Unfortunately, we live in a society where is not enough to assume that the person in your life with ASD is receiving quality education at their school, day program(s), or housing facility. I presently work for a school for individuals with autism that provides healthy sexuality and sexual safety information, but these programs are few and far in-between. Sadly, it is safer to assume that the person in your life on the spectrum is not receiving sexuality and sexual safety information. This is why it is important to make yourself into the personal resource or advocate for the person on the spectrum that you love. If you aren’t taking initiative to personally teach this information or to make sure the teachers and/or administration is providing quality sex education, odds are, no one is.
So, Step 1: Become a resource for that person you love with ASD, as the teacher of this information or as their advocate.
Step 2: Make sure the sexuality information is proactive. When it comes to sex education ,America is generally a reactive society, and this is within the neurotypical population. This tactic of teaching someone about condoms after they have already gotten pregnant is absurd, right? Perfectly avoidable repercussions, including high rates of sexual abuse, STDs, and unintended pregnancy, are happening at alarming rates. If this is how we educate our typically developing population, I’m sure you can imagine that the education for a population that is seen as asexual is even more pathetic. Individuals on the spectrum often only receive sexual education after they have engaged in inappropriate and sometimes dangerous sexual (if the behavior is ever realized by a caretaker at all). We need to prioritize education prior to an interest in sexual activity (if developmentally appropriate) or when interest is just becoming noticeable.
Step 3: Some important concepts that are important to teach
Public versus private behavior, good touch versus bad touch, proper names of body parts (research shows children who know anatomically correct language for their body are less likely to be victims of sexual violence because they have the language to talk about what happened to them), personal boundaries and personal spaces, masturbation (“private touching”), avoidance of danger and abuse prevention, social skills and relationship building, dating skills (if developmentally appropriate), personal responsibility and values (if developmentally appropriate).
Masturbation and sexual violence are often the two most challenges topics for folks to address. For more information on how to teach or handle those topics check out Autism and Sexuality, Part 3.