The onset of puberty is often a stressful time for adolescents and parents alike, and is typically of particular concern to parents of adolescents with Autism. While the ups and downs of puberty are largely unavoidable, there are strategies that parents can put in place to assist their adolescents with Autism in learning the ins and outs of sexual development and sexual relationships. A brief overview of one such strategy taken from Making Sense of Sex: A Forthright Guide to Puberty, Sex and Relationships for People with Asperger’s syndrome (Attwood, 2008) is described below.
Developing a Timeline for Sexual Behaviour
Parents and their adolescent are encouraged to develop a timeline relating to dating, sexual physical contact and sexual intercourse. This timeline can be broken down into three main stages:
– Meeting and noticing other individuals of an appropriate age/level of development
– Understanding and dealing with physical responses (e.g., blushing, increased heart-rate, erections, etc.)
– Flirting (making jokes, being playful, etc.)
– Spending time together (e.g., at school)
– Gift giving and/or sharing
– Dating (e.g., asking out, individual dates, groups dates, etc.)
– Sharing intimate personal space
– Hand holding, hugging/cuddling
– Touching (over and under clothes)
– Oral sex
– Sexual intercourse
Each of the above stages should be fleshed out in sufficient detail, with estimated times/ages for each step, acceptance and unacceptable behaviours for each step, etc. The adolescent and their parents are encouraged to check in with people they trust to get healthy advice, and to that end, they are encouraged to have a mentor at school and at home. Ideally this is a friend and/or family member that is reliable and trustworthy, but can also be school staff and parents/carers. Adolescents should be encouraged and rewarded for checking with their mentor(s) when they find situations confusing or contradictory, appropriate choices/behaviours should also be rewarded.
Puberty is often a time when parents of adolescents with Autism become especially worried about their child’s sexual maturity, emotional understanding and trajectory in life. However, the transition to adulthood can be made less stressful via the development of concrete, well-defined rules and strategies. Parents are encouraged to proactively seek information and advice via appropriate resources and professionals.
Attwood, S. (2008). Making Sense of Sex: A Forthright Guide to Puberty, Sex and Relationships for People with Asperger’s syndrome. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.