Sociosexuality Education for Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders Using Principles of Applied Behavior Analysis

By Wolfe, Pamela S.; Condo, Bethany et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, September/October 2009 | Go to article overview

Sociosexuality Education for Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders Using Principles of Applied Behavior Analysis


Wolfe, Pamela S., Condo, Bethany, Hardaway, Emily, Teaching Exceptional Children


Applied behavior analysis (ABA) has emerged as one of the most effective empirically based strategies for instructing individuab with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Four ABAbased strategies that have been found effective are video modeling, visual strategies, social script fading, and task analysis. Individuals with ASD often struggle with issues of sociosexuality. How can ABA principles be applied to sociosexual education for individuals with ASDÌ What content areas should such instruction comprise? What are the best practices for teaching?

The term autism spectrum disorders (ASD) refers to a diagnosis of impairment in one or more core deficit areas of communication, social skills, or behavior (American Psychiatric Association, APA, 2000) . As the term implies, individuals with ASD can fall along a spectrum of impairments ranging from mild to severe characteristics of autism disorders (APA). Character- istics of individuals having ASD, par- ticularly impairments related to social skills, often make it difficult for them to navigate the sometimes subtle and complex issues related to social and/or sexual situations. The need to educate individuals with ASD about sociosexu- al issues is widely acknowledged (Kol- ler, 2000; Ousley & Mesibov, 1991). Sexual issues for individuals with ASD can include inappropriate sexual behaviors (Ruble & Dalrymple, 1993; Stokes & Kaur, 2005); sexual abuse (Ruble & Dalrymple); unwanted preg- nancy (Melberg-Schwier & Hings- burger, 2000); or display of sexual behaviors in inappropriate times/places (Koller).

The issue of what to teach in sexuality education often is debated. Blanchett and Wolfe (2002) conducted a review of 12 sociosexual curricula for persons with disabilities and found that curricular content could be grouped into four areas: (a) biological and reproductive; (b) health and hygiene; (c) relationships; and (d) selfprotection/self advocacy (see Table 1). However, few if any curricula are specifically designed for individuals with autism (Gerhardt, 2006).

ABA-Based Teaching Strategies

More is known about how to teach individuals with ASD. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) has emerged as one of the most effective empirically based strategies for the instruction of persons with ASD (Gulick & Kitchen, 2007; Simpson, 2001). ABA examines behavior as a science and relies on objectively defined, observable behaviors (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). Basic principles associated with ABA include the use of modeling, prompts, or cues to teach skills/behavior; chaining or sequencing steps of instruction; and fading of prompts/cues once the individual has acquired the skills/behaviors (Cooper et al.).

Five ABA-based instructional strategies that have proven effective for individuals with ASD are video modeling, visual strategies, social stories, social script fading, and task analysis; Tables 2 to 6 present the characteristics of each of these along with intervention processes, examples of application, and references.

Video modeling (Table 2) involves observing a videotape of a model performing a target behavior and then imitating that behavior. CharlopChristy, Le, and Freeman (2000) used video modeling (in comparison to vivo modeling) to teach functional skills-including labeling emotions, independent play, spontaneous greetings, conversational speech, self-help skills, and social skills- to 5 children with autism.

Visual strategies (Table 3) use twoor three-dimensional representations of a concept to teach a skill. Visual strate- gies have been widely used with per- sons with autism, for teaching such concepts as transitions from setting to setting (Dettmer, Simpson, Myles, & Ganz, 2000); the sequence of daily activities (Gulick & Kitchen, 2007); and materials needed for activities (Gulick & Kitchen).

Individualized social stories (Table 4) focus on specific characteristics of a difficult social skill or situation (Gray, 2000) . …

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