Educating on the subject of sexuality is a very sensitive issue because of the social, ideological, and religious connotation that it bears. Despite this, it should be exposed with a total and absolute naturalness, even with adolescents suffering from autism spectrum disorder.
Autism and puberty
Children with autism may require more time to understand and adapt to new physical and psychological changes in their body. It is important to discuss all these changes before puberty begins.
What should we explain to them?
With the onset of puberty there are general issues that should be part of the education of children which should focus on these aspects:
- How to develop self-confidence, self-esteem, acceptance and self-respect, the difference between public and private norms of behavior.
- Social skills such as dialogue, communication with the couple, group outings, etc.
- Respect for the couple, explanation of the process of courtship and respect for the will of the couple.
- Prevention of the abuse of others, understanding the warning signs.
- Communication between the couple, establishing agreements, discerning what is acceptable, the importance of trust, sexual diversity, people’s rights.
- Education about the human body, its names, parts, what each one is for, and changes that are experienced.
- Expressions of affection through kisses, caresses, sex, etc.
How should we talk to them?
Parents are the main educators of their sons/daughters about sex. The ideal time to properly transmit the information should be sought. Parents know their children very well so that under this condition you must:
- Be honest in answering the child’s spontaneous questions.
- Have standard answers for inappropriate or questions asked in public places.
- Transform mistakes into opportunities for learning.
- Apply useful strategies in other educational fields.
- Request support and advice from medical and educational specialists.
- Take care of the way you address children.
- Give them confidence.
Some conclusions about ASD and sexuality
Adolescents within the autism spectrum disorder have normal sexual needs. They exhibit various behaviors and feel sexual desire, just like other young people. It is not about being hypersexual or asexual.
However, some people may have uncontrolled sexual behaviors due to lack of communication and social interaction. According to studies, sexual diversity is greater in people with autism than in the rest of the population.
These studies also showed that they have a higher risk of sexual abuse (78%) than other adults without autism (47%). Obviously, there is a significant risk in those who do not receive sex education.
Women with ASD are more likely to have a good relationship compared to men. This is due to the fact that men traditionally initiate courtship and seduction in a relationship.
Complications to socially interact with people with autism make the process difficult.
People with autism have the same problems as common teenagers in terms of identity and sexual orientation. However, these are aggravated due to their condition in communication and socialization.
To cope with this difficult stage, it is necessary to promote sexual education, prevent them from being vulnerable; without sexual risks, without feeling guilt, and without underestimating their sexual activity. Direct communication is the key to understanding this stage of their lives.
Currently, there are not many programs to guide young people with ASD about sex and sexuality, because teens within the spectrum ignore the social cues and expectations of their classmates, and there is no clear and direct talk for young people.
Teach them to avoid vulnerability to sexual abuse
The director of the Autism Research Organization, Dr. Peter Gerhardt, states that “Autistic children and adolescents should know that they should close the bathroom and should learn how to do it.”
“Sometimes parents think it is safer if they take their child to the bathroom with them, but the challenge is that the person most likely to cause abuse is someone the child knows, not someone the child doesn’t know and if you don’t teach a child to close the door in a public restroom, he/she is too open to abuse.”
It is difficult for young people with autism to learn from their partners about sexual norms. Basically, this depends on the parents. There are some fundamental concepts that they can learn if they receive proper sex education:
- Establish who can touch you or ask you to undress.
- Touch with abuse / Touch without abuse.
- Bathe alone and dress alone.
- Report inappropriate touches.
There is another difficulty that may arise: teaching the fundamental social aspects of sexuality. Topics such as masturbation fall within the scope of the social, so that young people need to know about when and where it is appropriate to touch and internalize the concept of privacy.
According to Dr. Gerhardt, “for children with autism who go to high school, if we do not pre-teach, they will get a very skewed view of human sexuality. At this time, there is no curriculum that really addresses issues in a functional way and there is little research on the subject. With sexuality, you are not only providing information, but you are also teaching values and social competence.”
In this regard, it is recommended that parents:
- Educate the child thinking about the future, “pre-teaching” is essential.
- Be direct and precise: use clear terms such as “penis” or “vagina.”
- Be insistent and repetitive about sexual security.
- Search for another person to show basic hygiene and safety concepts. It is essential that he/she be of the same gender.
- It is necessary to address the social connotation of sexuality.
- Strengthen and reward appropriate behavior.
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