Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Addressing the Sexuality and Sex Education of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Addressing the Sexuality and Sex Education of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper addresses the need for sexuality education for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. It provides a brief overview of autism and Asperger's Syndrome as well as a summary of the existing literature regarding the sexuality of this population. The existing research suggests that there is a high frequency of sexual behaviors among individuals with these disorders. A number of these behaviors may become problematic for caregivers and service providers because they violate societal norms regarding appropriate interpersonal behavior and may jeopardize the inclusion of this group in educational and community settings. The existing sex education programs for individuals with ASD are reviewed, highlighting the major components of programs tailored to this population.

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There has been limited attention in the literature to the sexuality of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In the past, there was a tendency to view such individuals as somehow unaffected by issues of human sexuality and intimacy, and when sexual interest and behaviors were noted, they were generally viewed in a negative manner due to the social impairments and related stereotypes associated with these disorders (DeMyers, 1979; Dewey & Everard, 1974). However, more recent literature indicates that most adolescents and adults with these disorders engage in sexual behaviors and many desire intimate relations with others (Haracopos & Pedersen, 1992; Kontstantareas & Lunsky, 1997; Ray, Marks & Bray-Garretson, 2004; Ruble & Dalrymple, 1993; Stokes & Kaur, 2005; Van Bourgondien, Reichle, & Palmer, 1997). Unfortunately, parents continue to report substantial concern regarding negative public perceptions of such behaviors and the subsequent treatment of their children (Realmuto & Ruble, 1999; Ruble & Dalrymple, 1993) and case studies have drawn attention to deviant sexual behaviors (e.g., public masturbation, fetishism, compulsive sexual behaviors, etc.) among this population (Ray et al., 2004; Realmuto & Ruble, 1999; Williams, Allard & Sears, 1996). Additionally, as the population of individuals with varying degrees of autism continues to grow, this will likely become even more of an issue in the near future.

We acknowledge that individuals with ASD, and all other disabilities regardless of severity, have a basic right to a sexual life and intimate relationships. As such, we hold that appropriate sexuality education is necessary to promote healthy socio-sexual functioning. This paper provides an overview of the disorders, the literature regarding sexual behavior among this population, and the sexuality education designed for individuals with ASD. For the review of literature regarding autism, sexuality, and sex education, sources were located via a computer search of Academic Search Premier (EBSCO), Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC), Wilson Omnifile, and Psychlnfo using the following keywords: autism, autistic, Asperger's, sexuality, sexual, and education. As a result, 20 sources addressing some aspect of the sexuality of individuals with autism were identified. Given the paucity of available work in this domain, the literature included in this review encompasses peer-reviewed journal articles, books, and publications by advocacy groups. In some cases (e.g., Koller, 2000; Schopler, 1997), we are forced to rely on secondary source citations be cause of the scarcity of intervention literature available on this topic.

Overview of Autism and Asperger's Syndrome

Autism is currently one of the most commonly diagnosed developmental disabilities (Foote, 2004). The prevalence of autism is estimated to be approximately 1 in 152 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007). Incidence of autism is higher among boys than girls, with a ratio of 3.5-4.0 to 1, although the incidence is almost equal among autistic individuals with severe and profound mental retardation (Seltzer, Shattuck, Abbeduto, & Greenberg, 2004; Volkmar, Lord, Bailey, Schultz, & Klin, 2004). …

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