Sex Education For Children With Autism

Little Known Ways to Tell Your Aspergers Child About Sex

Sex education for children with autism: how does one go about it?

I recently visited an Asperger’s forum, and a parent asked this question about sex education for children with autism:

Wanted to ask, for those with older kids, especially boys, how did you handle sexuality, puberty, pornography, etc? My son it becoming sexually curious at 11 and we have caught him on some inappropriate websites. We tried not to be mad but explain that it is not appropriate for his age, although we understand the curiosity, and yet he did it again. We are going to put a webnanny or blocker on there now, but I had seen physical changes happening and knew it was coming but didn’t know how to prepare. Any advice, stories, ideas would be appreciated.

This question generated a lot of discussion.

It got me thinking about what I might be able to give, both as a parent, and as a counselor working with people and families on the autism spectrum.

sex education for children with autism

In this article, I’ll focus on where it all begins: introducing sex education to children when they are even pre-puberty.  In a future article, I’ll move on to helpful ways to talk about sex with teens, but for now, I’d like to focus on kids who are elementary school kids up to beginning junior high.

Start Early

It’s best to start preparing to teach your kids about healthy sexuality from an early age.  It’s so much to have these conversations starting young and progressing as they get older, rather to try to bring the subject up abruptly in your children’s teenage years.

Planned Parenthood is  a controversial organization to those of right leaning political persuasion.  To those on the left, it’s a helpful organization.  I’m not going to say that I agree with all the stances of this organization, but I do find a lot of their guidelines about the process of sharing information with children  helpful.  I’ll reference some of their suggestions as we go on.

Examine Your Own Attitudes Toward Sex

Sex is a very private matter.  Each of us grow up with different cultural, religious, and personal attitudes and views of sex.  Some of us had parents who were very open and matter of fact about how sex and reproduction works.  Others of us never heard about sex at all from our parents.  Some of us found out about sex from school mates who had incomplete or questionable information.  Others of us were able to receive helpful information at the proper times in our lives.

Examine Your Experience With Sex Education From Your Parents

As parents, we can tend to either react against or reinforce with our kids what we learned, growing up, from our parents.

Examine Your Values

What do you believe about sex?  Is it good?  Should sex only occur within in the bonds of marriage?  Are you aware of what is legal, and what is illegal?  Is talk about sex something we should avoid?  What material have you researched to present to your child?

Examine Your Own Experience With Sex and Sexuality

The more you look at your own emotions, attitudes toward, and values about sex and sexuality, the more calm and matter of fact you will be with your child.

This is an extreme example, but it may illustrate my point.  Suppose a father or mother was sexually abused as a child.  And suppose this parent has never acknowledged to him/herself that the abuse happened.  Can you see how this parent’s attitudes toward sex may have been strongly covered by his/her experience?  Depending on how s/he has responded to the abuse, this parent may want to say absolutely nothing to his/her child about sex: ever.  Other parents may have become sexually compulsive in their behavior, subconsciously believing that it’s best to act out their sexual feelings, without regard for sexual boundaries.

Build Your Relationship With Your Child

This sounds somewhat trite, but a conversation about sex is just another conversation with your child.

How is your relationship and communication with your child overall?

Do you understand what your child wants you to understand about children on the autism spectrum?

Do you understand your child’s strengths and challenges?

It’s within this understanding that you will best be able to talk about a subject like sex.  When you have built understanding, trust, and love with your child, it will be easier to talk to him/her about sex and sexuality.

Understand Specific Traits of the Autism Spectrum

Just the Facts, Ma’am/Sir

In another thread I read in an Asperger’s forum site, Aspies overwhelmingly stated that their parents were far too general in talking about sex.

In my humble opinion (I say this because first, I am not an Aspie, and second, I am always learning), and from the comments I have read by other Aspies, it’s best to be very specific and matter-of-fact when presenting information about sex and sexuality.  Individuals on the autism spectrum tend to be most comfortable with facts, versus than with your feelings or vague analogies.

Many comments I read lamented their parents’ comments about “the birds and the bees.”  They complained that this analogy made absolutely no sense to them.  And, when you think about it, birds lay eggs, and I could not tell you how bees reproduce!

Educate Yourself With Excellent Sex Education Resources

Helpful Sex Education Articles

Before I share these articles, I would encourage you to look into sex education resources available within your own circle of faith.  For those of you who are committed to a specific faith, I’m sure you will be most comfortable when discussing sex and sexuality within the context of your faith.

Once you have that information in mind, I encourage you to check out these guidelines from Planned Parenthood called Talking To Kids About Sex and Sexuality.

Talking To Teens About Sex.  While this article is addressing how parents can talk to teens, I like it because it talks about understanding sex within your particular faith tradition and according to your values.  It has other helpful tips as well.

Here is an series of articles written from a Christian conservative perspective, as an example of talking to children about healthy sexuality within the context of that particular faith system.

This was an extremely helpful forum thread from Wrong Planet regarding the Birds and the Bees Talk, and different Aspies’ experience with that talk.

Helpful Sex Education Books

Autism – Asperger’s and Sexuality: Puberty and Beyond , by Jerry Newport.

Where Did I Come From?, by Peter Mayle and Arthur Robins.

A great number of Aspies reported this book as a very helpful way that their parents introduced them to sex and sexuality.  It’s written for kids as young as 6 and above.  As a parent, I’m sure you’ll take a look and exercise judgment about when would go through this book with your child.

According to one Aspie,

When I was in third grade, my parents bought me the book Where Did I Come From? (ISBN: 0-8184-0253-9). I liked it a lot, and found it very helpful, despite the fact that it has cartoon graphics of nude men and women, veiled references to erections and orgasms, and humorously written descriptions. Some vague sense of social intuition (the kind NTs have in full swing) told me not to discuss the book with people, but the information presented left very few questions unanswered.

Some other suggestions of helpful books for young kids that came out of the Wrong Planet forum thread I referenced earlier included:

What’s the Big Secret?: Talking about Sex with Girls and Boys , by Marc Brown

Here’s an overview of this book from the School Library Journal:

PreSchool-Grade 3: How can you tell a boy from a girl? What are the proper terms for genitalia? How do you make a baby? Where does a belly button come from? The Browns answer these and similar questions in an honest, but superficial way that will satisfy some youngsters, but leave others with many questions unanswered. Overly detailed for younger children and too incomplete for those nearing puberty, this information will be most useful as a bridge between books meant for preschoolers describing birth and those that tackle the process of maturation, sexuality, and the responsibilities and choices that come with growing up. The illustrations are excellent: colorful and cartoonlike, yet clear in their representation of human anatomy in both internal and external views. The layout and cover design will attract youngsters and their familiarity with this author/illustrator team will also add to its appeal. The greatest value of this work, however, will be in promoting dialogue between caregivers and children, especially if they read it together, but adults should be prepared to field many ancillary questions not covered in the text.

Melissa Gross, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA

It’s So Amazing!: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families (The Family Library), by Robie H. Harris

Here’s a review from Publisher’s Weekly summarizing this book:

The creators of It’s Perfectly Normal, targeted to middle-schoolers, here reach out to a slightly younger audience with candor and humor, neatly distilling various aspects of sex, reproduction and love. An inquisitive, loquacious bird and an embarrassed bee act as comic and straight man and serve as diverting foils to Harris’s conversational narrative; kids will both identify with and chuckle at the two characters’ reactions and asides. The duo’s cheerful banter also clarifies some potentially confusing issues (“So the fetus doesn’t grow where the pizza goes!” proclaims the newly enlightened bee). Specific topics covered include changes in boys’ and girls’ bodies during puberty, intercourse, birth control, chromosomes and genes, adoption and adjusting to a newborn sibling. The roster of experts in the closing acknowledgments speaks to the sensitivity and intelligence with which Harris and Emberley handle their treatment of masturbation, sexual abuse, HIV and AIDS and homosexuality. Emberley’s artwork ranges from lighthearted cartoon panels of a talking sperm meeting up with an egg in the fallopian tube to straightforward drawings of reproductive organs and a developing fetus. With its informal yet informed perspective, this volume renders much “amazing” phenomena reassuringly comprehensible. Ages 7-up.

Finally, I want to suggest NOVA – The Miracle of Life, by David Ogden Stiers (another Aspie mentioned that this movie was very helpful in putting all the facts together).  Here’s an editorial review from Amazon.Com:

Still startlingly beautiful after several years, Nova‘s The Miracle of Life records human conception for the first time on film, and much more. Living, functioning reproductive systems are laid bare to the camera, and there is so much to explore and absorb that Nova‘s expert guidance is much needed and appreciated. The viewer follows an egg from its follicular development in an ovary, through the delicate, flowery fallopian tube for fertilization, and on to the uterus for development and eventual birth. Likewise, we follow the shorter journey of millions of sperm as they develop and strive mightily to reach the egg. (There isn’t a man alive who can watch intraurethral footage without squirming–see for yourself!) Photographer Lennart Nilsson has shown us something profoundly beautiful and yet has left its fundamental mystery intact. The Miracle of Life is a rarity: a documentary that is also art. –Rob Lightner

Wrapping It All Up: Telling Your Aspergers Child About Sex

In conclusion, start early, if possible, to educate your aspergers child about sex.  Examine your own thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and values toward sex and sex education.  Be aware of the good and bad points in how you learned about sex, and think about how you want to share sex education with your child.

Build your relationship with your child, so that having this conversation will be like having any other conversation.  Stay low-key and mater of fact.  Keep things clear and specific, realizing that children with Aspergers gravitate to facts.

Read up on the books, articles, and other resources I shared with you above.  Talk to others who have traveled the road of sex education ahead of you, and whom you respect.

And let me know your experience with teaching your child.  You are the best teacher for your child!

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