Apr 182013
 

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

Masturbation and sexual violence in particular are two topics that can be especially challenging to teach but absolutely necessary.

Masturbation is normal for all individuals, regardless of developmental ability. The exploration of genitals and self-pleasure is a common human experience which generally begins in infancy.  Individuals on the spectrum are no different.  In fact, most individuals on the spectrum learn to masturbate on their own at some point in their life, however, many have trouble reaching orgasm during masturbation.  The challenge to reach orgasm may become problematic for two reasons: First, it may result in ritualistic behaviors. Second, it may be the only realistic outlet for sexual release for some people with autism.  If masturbation becomes a problematic behavior perhaps due to a lack of orgasm, check out The Center for Disability Information and Referral; they will be able to refer to informational videos about masturbating to orgasm.

Regardless of whether or not the behavior is ritualistic, a strict structure around masturbation is will help the individual to understand when masturbation is appropriate and when it is not.  Designate areas where it is okay to masturbate.  For example, an individual’s bedroom is generally a good option.  Avoid teaching the bathroom as an appropriate place to masturbate because using the bathroom may become a stimulus to masturbate.  Set up rules that designate an appropriate time to masturbate. Teach the individual that sometimes, masturbation is not an option.  Provide the individual with alone time or private time and give them the tools (verbal, ASL, PEC, etc) to communicate their desire for private time.  If this individual follows a strict schedule, incorporate private time into the schedule.  If/when the individual requests private time, refer to the schedule reminding them when they will have time to themselves.

Part of the teaching process regarding appropriate masturbation is teaching inappropriate masturbation.  When someone is engaging in inappropriate masturbation, interrupt the behavior by asking the individual to cease the behavior without emotional affect.   Remind the individual of when masturbation is appropriate with whatever means you communicate (such as verbal, i.e. “private time in bedroom” or visual, i.e. image of their bedroom).  Then redirect individual to an appropriate activity.  Particularly successful redirections may include ones that require the use of their hands (bead work, puzzles, etc.) a physical activity (bouncing on a ball or trampoline), or one that requires a lot of focus for that individual.  If their bedroom is available, you may redirect them to their bedroom.  Be wary of redirecting them to their bedroom immediately because the individual may learn to request masturbation by engaging in it.  Perhaps create a first/then demand i.e. first puzzle then private time, or have them engage in another activity and once engaged have them practice requesting private time appropriately.

Sexual violence is another challenging topic to approach.  Although there is no absolute way to completely protect a person you love with ASD from victimization, there are steps that can dramatically decrease the likelihood of abuse.  The National Child Traumatic Stress Network suggests the following steps:

1.  Teaching children accurate names of their private body parts.

2.  Avoid focusing exclusively on “stranger danger.”  Keep in mind that most children are abused by someone they know and trust.

3.  Teach about body safety and the difference between “okay” and “not okay” touching.

4.  Let children know that they have the right to make decisions about their bodies.  Empower them to say “no” and determining when they do and do not want to be touched, even in non-sexual ways (e.g. politely refusing hugs), and to say “no” to touching others.

5.  Make sure children know that adults and older children never need with their private body parts (e.g. bathing or going to the bathroom)

6. Teach children to take care of their own private parts (i.e. bathing, wiping after bathroom use) so they don’t have to rely on adults or older children for help.

7. Educate children about the difference between good secrets (like surprise parties – which are okay because they are not kept a secret for long) and bad secrets (those that the child is supposed to keep secret forever, which are not okay)

8. Trust your instincts! If you feel uneasy about leaving a child with someone, don’t do it.  If you’re concerned about possible sexual abuse, ask questions.

Obviously many of these lessons depend on the developmental abilities of the individual and some of these are unrealistic for some individuals.  Adaptations can be made to communicate these messages.  Additionally, supporting a school or program in their efforts to make an individual with ASD as independent as possible (eating, bathing) is critical.  Off Limits: A Parent’s Guide to Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse, by Feather Berkower is an absolute must read for every parent (present or future) and caretaker.  Although her books targets prevention techniques for parent’s with typically developing children, many of the concepts and ideas are applicable to those with ASD.  Feather will completely blow your mind and change your concepts around what prevention work means.  I cannot recommend this book more highly.

Sexual violence in the neurologically different population is happening at astounding rates.  Additionally, individuals on the spectrum who have been abused may engage in abusive behaviors towards younger siblings or ASD peers without an understanding of their actions.  There are steps to protect the ones we love on the spectrum from suffering in this way.  In fact, individuals on the spectrum should instead be given the support to live happy and sexually liberating lives!  May we move in that direction.

 

*Peter Gerhardt does fabulous work regarding the intersection of autism and sexuality.  Much of the information in this blog came from articles he has written and lectures he has given at conferences.  For more information I recommend a quick google search on his name.  Lots of quality information will pop up.  Also, don’t forget to talk to talk to the therapists, caretakers, and teachers in your life.  They too may have some fabulous suggestions in this arena.  Why not make this this education process a team effort.  Two heads are (almost) always better than one!

Apr 152013
 

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.

Apr 122013
 

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

Sex, sexuality and sexual safety are important topics of discussion.  Addressing it in our own lives is hard enough, let alone talking about it with our partner, friends, or children.  And when an individual has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) this conversation may seem harder, even impossible.  How do we address these complex and challenging topics?  And really, is it all that important? 

Yes.  Yes yes yes.  It is that important.

But before we get to the how, let us address the how come.

Lisa Mitchell is a counselor who specializes in autism.  She argues that the following points are the top reasons why it is vital to provide individuals with autism accurate and useful information concerning sexuality and sexual safety. 

First, ASD individuals often have limited opportunities for socialization and normalizing social sexual experiences.  The few opportunities they do have are complicated by social skills deficits associated with autism.  Secondly, many individuals with ASD do not have even basic knowledge about sexuality, and low reading ability hinders the chance to learn from written materials and other media such as the internet.  Thirdly, individuals with ASD are people and, like all people, have the right to learn all they are able so they may become a sexually healthy person.  Individuals on the spectrum have the same hormones and urges as their peers deserve the information necessary to make healthy decisions.  Fourth, individuals on the spectrum need additional information to protect themselves from sexual abuse, HIV/AIDS, and STDs.  This is particularly challenging for many individuals with ASD who have low self-esteem that leads them to be willing to engage in risky behavior in order to be accepted by their peers. Fifth, many individuals with ASD do not know when and to whom they may ask questions about sexuality.  This issue can be eliminated merely by making yourself available as a resource.

I would like to expand on the fact that, simply put, individuals on the spectrum have sexualities, too.  Many individuals on the spectrum, along with most individuals with intellectual differences, are not considered sexual beings by our society.  This is false.  Individuals with autism are sexual beings.  However, many individuals on the spectrum have cognitive abilities that are incongruent with their sexual development.  This incongruence often leads to another common misconception: sex education is inappropriate for individuals with autism.  Instead, sex education needs to be tailored to best support each individual.  Let’s be real – navigating the sexual world is hard no matter what who you are.  As parents, friends, cousins, and caregivers to an individual with autism, it is vital we recognize that individuals on the spectrum have a right to sexual education so they may live a healthy and satisfying sexual life. whatever that may be.

Individuals on the also spectrum need quality information so they may lead a life free of sexual assault and abuse, which is the second point I would like to expand on.  As individuals who know and love someone with autism, it is imperative we understand that individuals with neurological differences are extremely vulnerable to sexual abuse.  1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys suffer from sexual abuse before the age of 18.  And sexual violence does not cease when an individual is 18.  The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey reports that every 2 minutes a person is sexually victimized in the U.S.  For individuals with intellectual differences the numbers are even higher.  Although no specific numbers exist for rates of sexual abuse among individuals with autism specifically, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that individuals with any type of cognitive, intellectual, and/or developmental difference are 3.44 times more likely to be a victim of abuse (i.e. neglect, physical abuse, or sexual abuse) than their typically developing peers.   But the numbers don’t have to be this high.  With proper sexual education many individuals with autism can learn tools to protect themselves from sexual abuse and communicate any potential or previous harm inflicted, giving others in their lives the ability to take action.

ASD is a spectrum that covers a wide range of abilities.  This means the types of appropriate emotional and/or sexual relationships will vary dramatically for each person. The one consistent aspect of autism is that no one size fits all, and this concept applies to sexual education as well.  In turn, each individual needs personalized instruction that is appropriate for their abilities.

Every person deserves positive and healthy sex education and sexual safety information regardless of their neurology so they may enjoy a healthy and abuse free sexual life.

 

Feb 272013
 

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

As we previously discussed, defining sex for ourselves unleashes a whole world of options.  Instead of adopting mainstream definitions, limits, fantasies, and desires, which are often saturated in far too many “isms” (you know…sexism, ageism, racism, heterosexism…whew…just to name a few), deciding to define sex for ourselves allows us to engage in our own experimental growing process.  But let’s be real for a hot second: coming up with new ideas, and having the courage to then try those new ideas out (solo or with a partner or two), is a lot harder said than done. For real, even trying out new phrases, to make communication sexy, is really hard to do.

So, after doing some serious googling, visiting some of my favorite radical (and not so radical) websites, I’ve compiled a short list of ideas to consider, sleep on, and perhaps even try…

So what’s the big topic numba’ one we’re going to talk about on this fine fine day?!

Masturbation.

Masturbating.

Becoming your own clit master.

Mastering the willy.

Caressing the cunt.

Polishing the penis.

Greeting the genitalia.

Masturbation, despite mainstream promotion, is not just a thing teenage boys do.  Oye vey! No no no!  Masturbation is far too fabulous to ever be dismissed merely as a “thing” and only permissible for one, very small segment of the population. Masturbation is masturbation, not a “thing,” and everyone, of all ages, genders, and sexual orientations can and do masturbate!

Although statistics on masturbation are difficult to come by (pun intended), especially regarding reliable statistics for trans individuals, “Current research shows that around 89 percent of women and 95 percent of men have tried masturbation at some point in their lives, regularly or not,” (Ms. Shanna Katz, Flying Solo). Hmm…some high numbers.

Masturbation is not unique to the adult population either.  In fact, children often engage in genital play as young as six months.

Despite the fact that masturbation is an abundantly common human experience, masturbation continues to be laden with shame. Perhaps we feel unique in our shower ritual.  Perhaps we don’t feel unique in our shower ritual but do indeed try to make it as quick as possible…you know…to not waste water. Perhaps we masturbate in front of our partner to get our romantic candle lit, hot tub, and blindfold filled evening going.  Perhaps we buy the quietest vibrator to make sure our roommates don’t develop an inkling of our late night habit.  Perhaps it has never even occurred to us to touch ourselves down there because it is so gross. Perhaps we tried it once and never again because, I swear, my parents have looked at me differently ever since. Regardless of our present relationship with masturbation, positive, negative, or somewhere in between, it is hard to completely and entirely shake the explicit and (more likely) implicit shame we learned regarding touching ourselves.

Now, before we continue to blindly adopt this shame-based perspective or continue to believe that we have already reached a state of total masturbation perfection and self-love acceptance(you goddess you), we may want to consider the following before abandoning the ship that is this blog:  Masturbation has some seriously (and I mean gravely) positive physical and mental benefits, and provides the opportunity for further improving your individual and partnered sex life for  the novice and cultivated masturbators alike.

Do you dare say? Hmm…intriguing…

“That just ain’t true:” What masturbation does not do

1. Reduce your sex drive.

2. Make you grow hair in odd places. Who thought of that?

3. Make you go blind.

4. Kill you. Really?

 

“Keep whispering those sweet nothings:” The positives of gettin’ jiggy with yourself

1. Masturbation is the safest form of sex there is. After all, it is tremendously difficult (READ: Near Impossible!) to get pregnant when you are getting off by yourself.  Additionally, sexually transmitted infections are also very hard to pass along when you are alone (READ: Impossible!).

2. Masturbating can be relaxing. Trouble sleeping? Try jilling-off before going to sleep.

3. Masturbating often reduces stress and boost that ever needy immune system of yours.

 

Tell me more!?

Okay.

4. Masturbation improves your independent sex life. Think of it this way: you are the most reliable person in your life.  You’re always around so you can get down with yourself whenever.  At noon on a Sunday, 2 a.m. on a weeknight, or all day long on the leap year! You are always down for sex when you want it, you can get as romantic or kinky as you like, no communication is necessary (unless you like talking dirty to yourself, of course).  You can go as hard, as soft, as quick, as slow, as feisty, or as loving as you like – you can get yourself off, no ifs, ands, or buts, exactly the way you want to.  Whew.  Now that is some good sex!  Masturbation is independence, baby.

And…

5. Masturbation can support your partnered sex life to be dynamic, fun, sexy, engaging, and/or fulfilling.  It is simple: if you know what you like, then you can let your partner know what you like. If you feel like your genitalia is as mysterious as your default prepackaged gas station indulgent, then probably so does your partner.  The more you know about your own body, the more you know about what feels good to you, the more you can support your partner (who is not a genie, guru, or mind-reader) in figuring out your body.  Masturbation gives you the time and space to explore your body, and figure out what turns you on.  Then you take that knowledge to your partner(s) and share the wealth. 

Masturbation is like eating.  The more things you try, the more restaurants you go to, the more you cook, the more you realize the cuisines you enjoy (American…Italian…Mediterranean), the way you like your veggies cookies (processed…or steamed…or boiled to oblivion), to the way you like to eat them (in bed perhaps?).  If you only tried sautéed beets, it’s really hard to say what you like, because you have nothing to compare it to.  And when your adorably sweet partner decides to cook you an adorably sweet Valentine’s day dinner and says, “Oh lover, what is your favorite food?” You will respond, “Uhhhh…beets?” And your adorably sweet partner will feel more lost than Milo and Otis in Homeward Bound.

Masturbation gives you more options.  Masturbation supports you as you explore your own personal definition of sex.  And wouldn’t it be cool to be able to say to that adorably sweet partner of yours, “Umm…I love creamy beet risotto, with a side kale and arugula with an Italian style miso-tahini spread with zest-filled lemon juice on the side!”

You just may have the most phenomenal sex of your life.