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Many With Autism Lack Knowledge On Sex, Study Finds


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Adults with autism face a greater risk of sexual victimization than their typically-developing peers, researchers say, and a lack of education could be part of the reason why.

In a survey of adults with and without autism, 78 percent of those on the spectrum reported at least one instance of sexual victimization compared to less than half of their typically-developing peers.

People with autism were more than twice as likely to say that had been raped and over three times as likely to report unwanted sexual contact, according to findings published in the September issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

For the study, researchers surveyed 95 adults with autism and 117 without, ages 19 to 43. Individuals were asked about unwanted sexual contact and their knowledge of contraception, reproductive health and other issues surrounding sexuality.

“Some may not know that the experience they had is actually classified as sexual victimization. But if you give them a specific situation, like someone touching you inappropriately after you said no, they may be more able to identify that it has happened to them,” said Stephanie Brown-Lavoie of York University in Toronto who worked on the study.

Those with autism indicated in the survey that they were less likely to learn about sex from their parents, peers or teachers, instead turning to television and going online for information.

What’s more, the study found that this group had less knowledge of sexually appropriate behaviors and safe practices, among other issues.

“Having low levels of sexual knowledge places individuals at risk above and beyond what can be accounted for by having an ASD alone,” researchers said in their findings. “Given the negative impact that sexual victimization can have on an individual’s mental health and well-being, research is needed to determine best practices for proactive prevention, through teaching of sexually related information to children, adolescents and adults with ASD.”

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Comments (7 Responses)

  1. Scott Standifer, University of Missouri says:

    It is good to see this getting some formal research attention and documentation. Peter Gerhardt has been advocating for years for improved sex education for young adults on the spectrum. He has a good workshop on the subject for educators and service providers, and does offer sex ed to young adults on the spectrum in his area on a limited basis. It is, naturally, a very controversial subject. This is a good start at getting some objective data on it. And further evidence of the research community broadening its focus beyond children with autism.

  2. Jon K. Evans says:

    I am not surprised. HUMAN SEXUALITY IS NOTHING MORE THAN A CON GAME TO GET (USUALLY A GIRL OR WOMAN) TO SUBMIT TO A SEXUAL ADVANCE. I believe that the problem is already getting worse with the number and types of PEDOPHILIA on the increase.

  3. D. Simon says:

    This lack of social sexual education leads to loss of jobs, relationships, and worse, can result in individuals getting sucked into the criminal justice system as a sex criminal for simply not fully understanding the appropriate social behaviors and consequences. Girls and women are not the only possible victims!
    In 2008, at the Ohio Center for Autism annual conference, a session on this topic was offered. The presenter had prepared for 40 participants, the room filled to beyond capacity and many were turned away, well over 100 people! The presenter was surprised that anyone was interested in the topic!!
    We need more than formal research in this area, we need to actively address social-sexual education in special education for all students and families.

  4. Pam Smith says:

    I’m not sure why this is surprising. After all a prominent characteristic is difficulty with social interaction. When you are a teen or young adult, and you don’t understand the social rules, And you want to date like “the others”, And you tend to be impulsive, And you have trouble with boundaries… Is it any wonder? I am speaking as an adult on the spectrum. I think the main reason that I didn’t end up in this situation is that at that age I had been bullied so much that I trusted virtually no one my own age. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to be in the social circle and if I didn’t have the parents I have and the small close community I was in things may have been different. I also have 2 nieces on the spectrum and have( and am) watching them go through the same things. My 22 year old has no interest in “real” men.(only those on TV) Her 24 year old sister is a different matter. We were criticized for keeping a close eye on her as a teen, what people didn’t know was that she was identified as hyper-sexual at about 12. We have recently discovered that she also has Borderline Personality Disorder. I am so glad we followed our instincts. She was well informed on the issues but that is not the only thing she needs.

  5. Geraldine Robertson says:

    The personal development programs provided in schools are woefully inadequate. Most non Autistic students use peer discussion to clarify information presented in class. If you do not have a peer group, or if you have difficulty with private conversations, this is not available. Another issue is that students on the autism spectrum are often less mature than their peers. They may not be able to process the level of information presented in class and need it to be broken down into sections and presented a little at a time. Another disaster area is that more Autistic students experience different expressions of sexuality and these are not covered in most school sex education programs. This leaves students ignorant of the information they require to make informed decisions and they experience terrible shame, not realising that their expressions of sesuality are represented in the general population as well.

  6. Jackie says:

    I was thinking about this having been triggered into recalling being sexually harassed in several Autism support groups. I have Asperger’s Syndrome I have had parents try to make me their son’s girlfriend, I was afraid to say no because the parents would emotionally abuse me saying I had no right to say no because I’m higher functioning. These parents had no concern about what might happen to their son sexually harassing women.

    Worse the idea that cryng, “He has Autism!” exempts their child from all consequences. I’ve heard of parents using the Autism card to get their child the ability to stay at a job despite touching a female employees breasts. The reason women fear men with Autism is because they’ve been raised to believe no doesn’t apply to them. Women are made to feel guilt and shame from picking on the poor boy with Autism who didn’t know what he was doing.

    This is a large part of why we need sexual education for people with Autism. I was severely depressed thinking my life would be endlessly being treated as a object, a reward for parents sons and unable to say no. I have found out from the net one of the main reasons people fear mentally disabled people is the inability to be able to say no and have boundaries with them. Even if it’s just simply “Stop if someone says no.” it would help.

    Telling people they are horrible for rejecting or expressing boundaries with people with Autism only creates resentment towards people with Autism. Even worse parents emotionally manipulate other parents children with Autism to get their child friends. Taking advantage of vulnerable girls who have social skill problems like their son, how can they justify emotionally abusing another child who had Autism? How about considering society teaches girls to please others and be compliant? They take advantage of women like their sons, and if that doesn’t work they guilt their parents into making their daughters go out with men who have no concepts of boundaries.

    Now I’m not saying this situation couldn’t occur with the genders switched, but it tends to happen more with Autistic boys towards Autistic girls. If anyone woman reads this, I want you to know you have a right to say no. You have a right to say no if his parents are guilting you for rejecting him, you have a right to say no if he touches you or invades your personal space, you have a right to say no even if he didn’t know it was wrong. I do not want another women to go through what I did.

  7. Elizabeth A. Webster says:

    This is not surprising if one truly understands how a brain with autism works… take Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory- PERFECT example.
    Many people with autism develop sexual needs of course… but relationships, navigating the involvement of a partner… these are things that neuro-typical people struggle with… let alone someone that has a completely different set of needs socially. People with autism are far more often self -focused and more comfortable with that. AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG with it. It must be acknowledged as perfectly okay, and then the boundaries, or rules that they can follow in how to keep themselves safe can be put in place.

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