Parent Perspectives on the Impact of a Sexuality and Relationships Group Education Program for Adolescents with ASD and Their Parents

Friday, May 15, 2015: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Imperial Ballroom (Grand America Hotel)
L. L. Corona1, S. A. Fox1 and K. V. Christodulu2, (1)University at Albany, SUNY, Albany, NY, (2)Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, University at Albany, SUNY, Albany, NY
Background:  As individuals with ASD enter adolescence, they face new challenges, including the exploration of sexuality and romantic relationships. Individuals with ASD show interest in and desire for relationships, but deficits in social and communication skills characteristic of ASD can impair their abilities to seek and maintain relationships (Gabriels & Van Bourgondein, 2007). Despite this, individuals with ASD receive less education on sexuality than their typically-developing peers and are more likely to acquire knowledge about sexuality and relationships from their parents (Stokes & Kaur, 2005; Stokes, Newton, & Kaur, 2007). Parents of adolescents with ASD report concerns related to sexuality and relationships and express the need for support in teaching their children about these topics (Ballan, 2012). 

Objectives:  The first objective of the present study was to examine parent satisfaction with a group education program for adolescents with ASD and their parents. The second objective was to assess the impact of the program on parent-child discussion of sexuality and relationships, parent comfort discussing these topics, and parent concern regarding sexuality and relationships.

Methods:  Eight adolescents with ASD (ages 12-16) and their parents participated in a six-session program designed to provide education on sexuality and relationships. Adolescent sessions covered topics including: puberty, privacy and personal boundaries, types of relationships, dating, sexual activity, and legal and safety issues. Separate parent sessions included review of the adolescent material and discussion of strategies to support adolescents in understanding the topics. To examine the impact of the program, parents completed questionnaires assessing satisfaction with the group, experience and comfort discussing sexuality and relationships with their children (adapted from Schuster et al., 2008), and concerns related to sexuality and relationships (Stokes & Kaur, 2005).

Results:  Parents reported that the group was beneficial for themselves and their adolescents, and that the group met the needs of their families. Parents reported having discussed more topics with their adolescents following the program (M = 14.13, SD = 6.11) than prior to participation (M = 8.25, SD = 3.62), t (7) = -3.18, p = .015. Parent ratings of comfort discussing sexuality and relationships were not significantly different prior to (M = 33.75, SD = 12.51) and following (M = 38.50, SD = 10.80) participation, though the means were in the correct direction. Parents reported less concern related to sexuality and relationships following the program (M = 19.29, SD = 7.02) than prior to participation (M = 16.00, SD = 6.30), t (6) = 2.97, p = .025. Further examination revealed that while group participation alleviated some parent concerns, worry about other topics appeared to increase (See Figure 1).  

Conclusions:  Providing education on sexuality and relationships in a group format appears to be beneficial for adolescents with ASD and their parents. Participation in a group education program was related to more discussion of sexuality and relationships between parents and adolescents, as well as decreased parent concern related to these topics. Further examination of these findings is justified, particularly given the need for sexuality and relationships education for adolescents with ASD.