Teaching Sexual Health

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Tip of the Month:
September, 2017

Why teach sexual health to students with ASD?
People with Autism are like all people and have the right to learn all they can to enable them to become a sexually healthy person. However, because of to the social challenges a person with autism faces, learning about sexual health can be even more important. Many individuals with ASD do not have even basic knowledge about sexuality. Many individuals with ASD do knot know when and whom to ask questions with regards to sex and sexuality. Teaching sexual health is important to help prevent the spread of STD’s, unwanted pregnancies, and abuse. Many young people with ASD or other disability are at an increased risk of sexual abuse. Many young people do not know the difference between an appropriate and inappropriate touch. Often sex and sexuality, as serious topics, are ones many of us would rather avoid than address. This may be more so when the issues is sexuality and students with ASD. Individuals with ASD may have sexual feelings that are “out-of-sync” with their level of social development and awareness. As children grow, their social and sexual skills sets are likely to become different to their chronological age and appearance. Other people, however, will base expectations on their chronological age, and NOT their developmental age.

How to teach sexual health:
Start earlier rather than later! Preparation is key! It might take our students with ASD to understand and process information and thus starting earlier gives them more time to come to terms and understand important skills and concepts. TEACH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication related Handicapped Children) suggest that parents and professionals begin the discussion about sexuality at around the age of 10 which is (two-three years before the average child enters puberty. Students with ASD can be reluctant to change, so it is important to give them plenty of notice regarding what will happen when they enter puberty.

Be clear, direct, and honest!
It is important to answer your child or student’s questions about puberty, their body and sexuality. This helps the student understand that puberty and sexuality is not something to be embarrassed about and that they can trust you. Using clear and correct terminology to describe body parts is also essential and is the most effective approach when teaching sexual health. Using visual supports is a key strategy for students with ASD. You can use visual supports to explain basics of development, such as showing the student photos of themselves as babies and toddlers, and of other children at different ages to help your student to understand about when puberty happens in life.

You can also use a body outline, labelling all of the body parts and pointing out how each part will change and talking about what fluids come from each part (sweat, tears, urine, semen, menstrual blood).

Teach private versus public!
It is vital to give students guidelines about the difference between private and public. Some topics that can be covered are: What parts of my body are private? Who can touch certain parts of my body? What body parts can I touch on other people? What is a private room and what can I do in that room (Masturbate, undress)?

Resources list
• Making sense of sex by S.Atwood and J.Powell
• A 5 is against the Law! Social boundaries straight up! By K.D. Buron
• Intimate relationships and sexual health: A curriculum for teaching adolescents/adults with high functioning ASD and other social challenges by C.Davies and M. Dubie
• Teachngsexualhealth.ca (go to teacher’s portal- lesson plans- lesson by grade-differing abilities)

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