Communication about Sexuality Between Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Their Parents

Saturday, May 14, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
K. Hartmann1, M. Urbano2, T. V. Williams3, A. L. Peterkin4 and T. Kozikowski2, (1)P.O. Box 1980, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, VA, (2)Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk, VA, (3)Virginia Consortium Program in Clinical Psychology, Norfolk, VA, (4)Psychology, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA
Background:   Sexuality is a difficult topic for most people to discuss given social rules, whether they are neurotypical or have any additional challenges such as ASD. Many families opt out of these conversations until a difficulty arises. For neurotypical children, sex education is part of their everyday peer interactions. Children with ASD, by their nature, shy away from peer interaction due to the many environmental and social factors that overwhelm their preference for information and emotion processing. By the time a child with ASD reaches puberty, they have already missed out on valuable peer interactions and learning about sexuality in interpersonal relationships. Exploring intimacies requires social interaction sophistication, self-knowledge, and communication with the other, all difficult for individuals with ASD. 

Objectives:   The present study intends to add to the current literature by exploring the sexual knowledge and practices of young adults with ASD and their communication with their parents/caregivers.  Additionally, it aims to explore the comfort caregivers of young adults with ASD feel when discussing sexually related topics with their child. The level of support caregivers would like in addressing sexual topics with their young adult with ASD will be explored. 


This study aims to collect responses in an online survey from 200 young adults with ASD and their parents. Participants were asked to complete a series of questionnaires: a demographic questionnaire, a measure to confirm the presence of ASD symptomatology (ASQ-10), several measures related to sexual knowledge, experiences, and orientation (General Sexual Knowledge Questionnaire, Sexual Behavior Scale, Sexual Experiences Survey, Online Sexual Risk Behaviors, Klein Sexual Orientation Scale), and family communication (Family Sex Communication Quotient). 

Results:   Data analyses will compare descriptive statistics and frequency data to national statistics for sexual behaviors in neurotypical young adult populations. This study aims to investigate reliance on the internet for sexual information and activities, desire for privacy when engaging in sexual behaviors, overall desire for and engagement in sexual behaviors, instances of unwanted sexual advances, asexuality and same sex attraction, caregiver communication about sex, and caregiver concerns about their child’s sexual development. Caregiver beliefs about their child’s exposure to sex education will be compared to young adult reports of their exposure to sexual education.

Conclusions:   This study is currently online but results not yet available. We hypothesize the following: Young adults with ASD will know more about sexuality than their parents anticipate, endorse reliance on the internet for information about sexuality, seek less privacy when engaging in sexual behaviors, express desires for intimate relationships on par with others in their peer group, be subjected to more instances of unwanted sexual interactions, and report higher rates of asexuality and same-sex relationships. Caregivers of individuals with ASD will report communicating with their child about sexual information and express worries about the sexual development of their child. Young adults with ASD engage in frequent family communication about sexual activities and will have accurate sexual knowledge.