I think it is my right to hope for the love of a woman and the happiness of a home of my own. – Jeremy Sicile-Kira, A Full Life with Autism
No matter their ability level, parents need to provide some guidance for safety reasons to their teens. As well, although a teenager may not be showing any romantic inclinations, as an adult they may feel differently.
There is a high percentage of sexual abuse towards those with autism and developmental disabilities, and we need to protect our children. This is not easy for parents to think about; obviously none of us wants to hear our child was taken advantage of in a relationship or with friends, abused by a trusted person or a stranger.
It’s important for your teen’s safety, even if your teen is not showing any romantic interest, that certain actions be explained to make sure they don’t get involved in any inappropriate situations. Listed below are helpful tips for those who have adult children who are thinking about dating and falling in love and becoming intimate – thinking of your adult child having sex is even less palatable than thinking about your parents having sex: some things we don’t really want to know or even imagine!
Depending on the emotional and social level of your teen there are different ways and different times to teach various aspects of intimacy and sexuality.
Basics They Need to Learn
Thinking ahead and being pro-active is important. Remember how you teach is just as important as what you teach. Teaching in a factual manner is important. Here are some general tips in regards with where to start when discussing with your child, depending on their ability level:
The Basics (discussing sexuality as a behavior):
1. Ensure that your youth knows how to make and communicate choices. If someone cannot safely and assertively request something different for dinner, how can we expect them to assertively claim privacy over their body or say yes or no in a social, dating or sexual situation?
2. Allow your youth to make honest and open choices about simple and complex issues in their lives as they are able to.
3. Find someone to teach the basics of safety and hygiene, if they still need help in these areas.
4. Be concrete when discussing sexuality
5. Be consistent and repetitive about sexual safety, and ensure they are learning the difference between “private’ and “public” behaviors.
6. Teach about the different boundaries that exist for different relationships, and the appropriate types of conversation for each type of relationship.
7. Teach that any area normally covered by a bathing suit should not be stared at, or touched, on themselves or others unless they are in a consensual intimate relationship, and then only in private.
8. Strongly reinforce the appropriate behaviors and conversations.
9. It’s important that the person should be able to identify places on the body where it is appropriate to be touched by others with whom they are not in an intimate relationship; and even then only with their permission.
10. It is important that the person be able to tell someone when he or she is touched in an “off-limits” area of the body.
More Than Just The Basics
It is encouraged that a young adult who is thinking of dating or even of being in a sexual relationship have more information. Parents need to use their judgment. Besides the basics there are more lessons to be taught. Just as in the neurotypical population, there are questions of sexual identity that may need to be addressed. Our teens and young adults need to understand about heterosexuality and homosexuality and people’s different choices. If your young adult is sexually active they need to be aware of the possibility and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS, as well as how to prevent pregnancy. Ensuring that your young adult has a trusted medical professional they can turn to for questions such as these is reassuring since you know they will be getting information from a valid source. Moreover, those with sensory-processing sensitivities need to know how to communicate these with their partner.
There are useful resources listed in my book (co-authored with my son Jeremy) A Full Life with Autism: From Learning to Forming Relationships to Achieving Independence (Macmillan 2012).
Chantal Sicile-Kira is a transition planning consultant and the author of five award-winning books. More information and resources on dating and sexuality are available in her book, A Full Life with Autism, co-authored with her son Jeremy, age 26. (Please link title to: http://autismcollege.com/books/a-full-life-with-autism/) For more information on Chantal, visit http://autismcollege.com/.
For more information on Jeremy, visit http://www.jeremysvision.com/