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How to Handle Sex and Sexuality Education for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

written by: Debbie Roome • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 12/15/2010

Sexuality education for autism spectrum disorders is essential to prevent inappropriate behavior in children and adolescents. Learn how to teach autistic children about sex and their bodies.

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    Problems with Sexuality Education for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

    Sexuality education for autism spectrum disorders will vary according to the person’s degree of ability and IQ. Verbal skills are also a consideration as this affects the way information is communicated. Some autistic children live in a sheltered home environment with little contact with the outside world. Others may live in a group home or have employment in a sheltered workshop. These children and teens would obviously need more in-depth teaching. Sex education is a difficult issue to approach and careful consideration is required when formulating a program.

    Autistic children are often unable to pick up on social cues and innuendos and for this reason, sex education needs to be straightforward and clear. They need to understand what is involved and what behaviors are safe and appropriate.

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    How to Approach Sex Education for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

    After considering an autistic child’s unique situation, level of understanding, and abilities, a plan can be drawn up to educate them about sex. Some or all of the following suggestions may be useful when approaching the subject:

    • Use a picture or diagram to explain the different parts of male and female anatomy and what they are designed to do
    • Explain that sex is part of life and has its time and place. It is not something to discuss with strangers or during a casual conversation
    • Discuss sex as being an act involving two people. The other person’s feelings and wishes must always be respected
    • Show pictures of facial expressions and body language that may be present when a person desires sex or conversely, does not want sex. Explain what signs the child should look for
    • Autistic children need to understand that sex should not be handed out to anyone and everyone. It is not a way of gaining friends and popularity and needs to be handled responsibly
    • Reinforce that pornography is not appropriate and talk they hear at school may not be true
    • Include a lesson on menstruation, hygiene, birth control and sexually transmitted diseases. Autistic children may have to be trained to do simple things like shutting bathroom doors, bathing daily and coping with menstruation.
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    Sexual Problems in Children with Autism

    In spite of receiving sex and sexuality education, some autistic children still go on to behave inappropriately. A common problem is masturbating in public and masturbating with hard objects that cause physical harm. Others may rub up against other people’s genitals or touch them inappropriately. Experts believe that autistic people can be trained to satisfy their sexual urges through appropriate masturbation. However, they need to understand that this must be a private behavior.

    Sexuality education for autism spectrum disorders is a broad topic with many angles. Children on the spectrum vary greatly in IQ and ability and their living circumstances should also be taken into account. Sex education is often more precise and focused than in a normal situation as the autistic child needs to learn to interpret the body language that goes along with sex. The lessons may need to be repeated many times until the message is understood.