Last month we brought you Scoop Essentials: Dating 101, a conversation about dating and relationships with sexuality training specialist Mary Greenfield from Adults and Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities, Inc. (ACLD) in Bethpage, N.Y.

Now, Mary answers your questions on everything from masturbation to sexual fantasies and whether or not guardians can decide if a person can have sex.

Does a guardian have the right to decide if a person can have sexual relationship? — Katie, 29, Chicago, IL

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Mary: States differ on the subject of guardianship, so you do need to check with a lawyer knowledgeable about Illinois law in this area. According to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ A Guide to Consent, a guardian is appointed when an individual has severe limitations and needs protection. There can be a guardian of property and a guardian of person. The guardian of property makes decisions for the individual in question around monetary assets, but the individual still is able to make many decisions such as who to vote for in an election, medical decisions and marriage. The guardian of person makes more personal decisions like medical decisions.

Sexual activity has many components and brings in health issues, social issues as well as consent issues. The appointment of a guardian does not explicitly give the guardian the power to prohibit sexual activity per se, but the guardian does have the right to protect the consumer from dangerous activity, exploitation, health risks and more. Assuming the individual is capable of consenting to the sexual contact and is not exploiting another person (ie. that person is capable of giving sexual consent too), guardianship does not absolutely preclude sexual activity. Once again, though, remember that definitions of what is included in guardianship do differ from state to state, so check out what is specifically included in your state.

My verbal 15 year old son with moderate autism, mild cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus has recently begun masturbating. In school they tell him to put his hands on the desk and that works pretty well with reinforcement. At home, we can’t use the same response. We have been telling him that if he wants to touch his penis he needs to go to his bedroom. But he will try to do this in the car, in the bus, etc. It just started one month ago.  Is there any advice you can give me about how to handle this? He does understand he should do this in private, but he needs a reminder at home.  Thank you. — Melissa K., 38, Peekskill, NY

Mary: As I’m sure you know, increased erections and sexual feelings are a very normal part of puberty and the teen years. Your son is probably finding himself aroused in a variety of places and needs more continual reinforcement to help him remember that his room at home is the only place that is private enough for masturbation. It is important to establish a private routine that is clear and concrete. Most families teach that their child’s bedroom is their private space and give the individual scheduled private time. I especially like using Social Stories in situations like this. Social Stories, developed by Carol Gray, are specifically scripted in a way that describes a process and result that make sense to persons with autism spectrum disorders. You can find out more about them by clicking here. Your son may understand the rules for masturbation at school and home, but could be having difficulty generalizing them outside of those two places. If he does well with physical prompts, then work with his school to make sure you are all giving him the same message — that masturbation is private and touching himself is a private act.

There are powerful hormones at work, so while your response needs to be measured, calm and consistent, you are also overriding some strong sensory feelings. However, you are using the same tools you probably use in other situations: patience and repetition. I had one father tell me that it took a year of repetition and reminders before his son was consistent with his behavior around masturbation. Here are some other thoughts: sometimes there is a physical reason why someone starts masturbating in multiple places. His penis could be irritated and itchy, or a change in medication may be making it difficult for him to ejaculate. It is always a good idea to rule out any medical issues. He also may be feeling bored on the bus or in the car which can be addressed with games, music, or whatever he likes to use that is socially acceptable in down times. Hope this helps.

My 27 year old son with autism and intellectual disabilities has a huge crush on Princess Leia from Star Wars whom he calls his “girlfriend.” He will look at pictures of her on his computer for hours, won’t eat meals, and doesn’t want to go to bed. Should I discourage this or let him continue until his fixation runs its course? If I encourage him to shut down the computer he gets angry and tells me to, “Go away!” I’d really appreciate your insights. Thanks for your help. — Nicole, 54

Mary: Behavior happens for a reason, and this obsession seems to be sensory at its core. I suspect your son is feeling turned on sexually by the pictures of Princess Leia. Many people like to look at pictures for sexual arousal. You need to address his feelings in a sensitive way, and do some problem solving with him. I don’t think I would let this just run its course because he does need to learn how to be more flexible and balanced in his future behaviors too.

As I understand your question, your main concern is his not eating and sleeping when he is involved with the pictures. It is a good idea for you to consider what behavior you find worrisome, and then share that with him. However, address your concerns when he is not involved in this activity since he won’t be able to calmly discuss anything with you at that time. You want to come to an agreement on how you could interrupt his behavior, and it is easier to get to that agreement when he is not in the midst of the activity you wish to interrupt. He may resist you later, but you can point out that you have an agreement he needs to honor.

I would start by saying something like, “Sometimes a man’s penis will get hard when he sees a picture of a woman. Is that what is happening with you when you see Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies? Many men like to masturbate to pictures that arouse them. These feeling are very normal. However, I am concerned that you spend all your time watching this and aren’t eating or sleeping. What do you think we can do about that?” I don’t know you son’s cognitive ability, but if you both can work this out, it is much better for your son. If he doesn’t agree with you, you can follow that up with a specific and concrete observation of what happens to him when he does get so involved with the pictures.

The above scenario assumes you are able to discuss masturbation with him and feel okay about his masturbating in private. I don’t know if he is masturbating when he is watching, but if he is, he may also be having difficulty ejaculating which is why he spends so much time there (and why he doesn’t like you interrupting). If he is just watching, and there is no sexual involvement, then you can address this from a different viewpoint. I find, though, that the sexual feelings need to be concretely addressed in order to give permission and some specific information about sexuality.

One other thought: He may be lonely and need some social activities. I find many of the folks I work with look to fantasy as a substitute for friendship. See if you can get him more involved with others. You could team up with some other parents and develop home movie nights at rotating homes, or other social activities. That may also help.

Read all of Disability Scoop’s original series Scoop Essentials. Your Life. Your Issues. Your World.