Autism Spectrum

Launchpad

leaving school and leading your own life

 Sexual health

 

What does sexual health mean?

For someone to be sexually healthy:

  • They need to be comfortable with their body and sexuality
  •  They can communicate effectively with peers, family, and partners
  •  They know their body and how it functions
  •  They are able to understand the risks, responsibilities, and consequences of sexual behaviour
  •  They are able to recognize risks and ways to reduce them
  •  They know how to access and use health care services and information
  •  They are able to set boundaries when it comes to sex and sexual relationships
  •  They act responsibly according to their own personal values
  •  They are able to form and maintain healthy relationships

Young people on the autism spectrum may need to be taught very specifically how to look after their sexual health.  The information provided should cover:

  • Sexual health – rights and feelings in sexual relationships
  • Safe sex practices
  • Contraception
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Screening for cancers and other illnesses

They may also need much more precise teaching about dating and relationships, see our section on that here.

 all about sex

 

Sex education

 

What we know

Young people with autism develop physically and sexually in exactly the same way as their peers.

Most want to have romantic relationships and display the typical range of sexual behaviours, feelings, interests and needs.

However, despite having normal interest and desire, many young people with autism have poorer skill sets and knowledge.

Compared to their peers they:

  • receive less sex education
  • display poorer social behaviours
  • have less awareness of sexuality
  • and display more inappropriate sexual behaviours.

Young people with autism are also more vulnerable to misinterpreting social cues and sexual behaviours.

They may miss warning signs that a situation may be dangerous.  

Due to their limited social experiences, they often don’t have the same opportunity to learn about sexual behaviours and relationships from friends.

So – young people on the autism spectrum need very direct teaching of social skills and the rules regarding sexual behaviour and relationships.

 

Providing sex education 

The standard sex education provided in schools is unlikely to provide sufficient information.

In addition these programs are often delivered in the later primary school years. Many young people on the spectrum have not reached a developmental level that allows them to take the information on board at that time.

It is essential, therefore, that adequate sex education is provided during adolescence and early adulthood in a format that can be easily understood.

Parents can often find these conversations difficult and a little confronting. However it is well worth overcoming any discomfort you feel to ensure that your son or daugther has the information they need to keep them safe.

Young people with autism will need to be provided with the same information as other young people, however they are likely to need additional specific information regarding related social skills and sexual abuse prevention.

It will be best if the material is presented in a very visual and concrete way.

Teaching strategies should also include social stories, role playing and video modelling of various scenarios.

Isabelle Henault, French-Canadian psychologist and author of Asperger’s Syndrome and Sexuality: From Adolescence through Adulthood, provides some great tips to help parents talk effectively with their teens.

  • Don’t use excessive and wordy explanations. Keep it simple
  • Talk to your child about sexuality in a positive way, free of prejudice
  • Use accurate terms and proper vocabulary, not childish substitutions
  • Be concrete in your explanations
  • Be sure your child develops a clear understanding of the concepts of consent, stalking, abuse and privacy.

“For too long, sex education has been a hot potato passed from parents to the school and from school to the parents,” says Dr. Hénault.

 

“Now we know it is a shared responsibility, and we all must participate in the process.”

For more from Isabelle Henault you can watch her video on the Yale School website 

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Sex, Safe and Fun resource pack

Sex, Safe and Fun is a resource pack for parents and carers who are  teaching people with intellectual disability about positive safe sex messages. 

Sex, Safe and Fun has a video training module for people using the resources (see below) and booklets and other resources.

Sex, Safe and Fun has been developed by Family Planning NSW, and the Sex, Safe and Fun wesbite is here.

 

Sex education resources for young people with an intellectual disability

For some young people with autism, particularly those with intellectual disability, the information will need to be provided in a simpler format. 

Family Planning NSW has a series of fact sheets and books written for young people with an intellectual disability and their carers titled “All about Sex.”

The full range of Family planning’s resources for people with a disability can be viewed here.

NSW Council for Intellectual Disability has a really useful page on sexuality. It has good tips for families and support workers.

Intellectual disability and sexuality is a page on the Better Health Victoria website which takes a broad look at sexuality and intellectual disability.

Some psychologists offer specialised workshops or therapy in sexual education.

 

Accessing disability-friendly sex workers

 
Touching Base Inc is a charitable organisation, based in Sydney NSW Australia.

They provide information for people with disability or their carers on how to access the sex industry.

If you are interested in making contact with a sex worker in your area, you can contact Touching Base Referral List Operator.

They have a list of disability friendly sex service providers around Australia.

 

Sex abuse prevention

There is evidence to suggest that young people with disabilities are at higher risk of sexual abuse than the general population. It is important to teach:

  • Anatomically correct name of body parts
  • Rules about touching and the way that this changes depending on the situation
  • How to identify “red flags” of dangerous situations
  • Teaching the young person that they have the right to say “no” and that they are the owners of their body
  • The concept of consent and the idea that there are a number of steps involved in becoming physically close to someone
  • How to report offences to the appropriate authorities

This may seem a little daunting, however there are lots of great books and resources to help.

 

Websites

Positive Partnerships has an online training module for parents on the topic of sexuality, and personal hygiene and safety.

There is a very informative page on sexual health on the Reachout website

Bedsider is a US based website aimed at young women which discusses clearly all methods of contraception.

The Queensland Health website  has lots of information about sexuality and sexual health here.

The Queensland Health website also has some movies relating to safe sex.

The Family Planning NSW website has a section aimed at young people under 25. It contains very relevant sections on reproduction and sexual health.

The SA Department of Education and Child Development website has a detailed handout for parents that outlines how to protect children with disabilities from sexual abuse.

 

Books

There are lots of great books written specifically for young people with autism and disabilities.

Some are aimed at young people themselves and would be most suitable for those who are competent readers and have reasonable comprehension skills.

Examples include “Making Sense  Of Sex” by Sarah Attwood  and “Asperger’s Syndrome and Sexuality: From Adolescence through Adulthood” by Isabelle Henault.

You can read about these books at the publishers website here: Jessica Kingsley Publishing

There are other books designed for young people with higher support needs. 

The “What’s happening to Tom and Ellie?” series by Kate E Reynolds includes simple but explicit drawings which can be used to understand puberty, and sexuality.