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Sexual Behavior in Adolescents and Young Adults Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Parent's Perspective

Saturday, 4 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
M. J. Lang1, D. R. Morrison1, L. Martin2 and K. Shier3, (1)Counseling and School Psychology, Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, CA, (2)Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, CA, (3)Azusa Pacific University, La Verne, CA
Background: Adolescence is a time where sexuality emerges, and individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience the same bodily changes as typically developing peers. ASD is characterized by deficits in social interactions and communication, as well as the presence of restricted and stereotypic patterns of behavior. Due to the deficits in social interactions individuals with ASD may have a difficult time expressing themselves appropriately. Past research has shown that individuals with autism display inappropriate sexual behaviors. However, these studies have had limited sample size and diversity. Further research is necessary to provide a larger and more diverse sample size in order to determine the extent of the problem and to develop effective behavioral and educational strategies to prevent problem behaviors.

Objectives: Our goal was to determine the extent of inappropriate sexual behaviors in adolescents with autism across a broad sampling of the U.S. population. Special attention was given to differences in sexual behavior between individuals diagnosed with AS, mild-to-moderate, and moderate-to-severe autism. This study will increase understanding of sexuality in ASD and shed light on the need for interventions to assist individuals with ASD in coping with their behavioral urges.

Methods: The researchers utilized the Sexual Behavior Scale (SBS) developed by Stokes and Kaur (2005) to examine the behavior of individuals with ASD between the ages of 8 and 25. This measure identifies parents’ attitudes and perceptions of their child, adolescent, and/or young adult’s behavior across five domains: 1) social behavior; 2) privacy awareness; 3) sex education; 4) sexual behavior; and 5) parental concerns. Participants were recruited through the Interactive Autism Network (IAN), which is intended for families, professionals, and researchers to share information. A link to the SBS, which was on Survey Monkey, was provided to families who were members of IAN. There were 232 parent/caregiver participants answering in reference to their children with ASD. It was hypothesized that parents/caregivers would report inappropriate sexual behaviors and that differences would be expressed across severity of diagnosis, age, gender, region, and ethnicity.

Results: The parental perspective came predominantly from biological mothers (87.9%). While the majority of respondents were caucasian (77.2%), the sizable sample enabled insight into parental concerns across diverse ethnic backgrounds. A sizable percentage, 45.7%, indicated that their child had touched private body parts in public. There was also a significant negative correlation between age of the individual and touching private body parts in public (r=-.178; p=0.01). Qualitative results indicated significant concern in regards to social behavior and social acceptance. Several parents also expressed their gratitude that this issue is being studied indicating the need for more research in this area.

Conclusions: These findings will provide an understanding of the need for privacy, appropriate sex education, and social skills training in adolescents and young adults with ASD. While our analysis is ongoing, we hope that these findings will assist in the development of behavioral and educational strategies that will facilitate healthy and appropriate sexual and social behavior for individuals with ASD.

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