Parent-Child Sexuality Communication for Adolescent Girls with ASD

Friday, May 13, 2016: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
L. Graham Holmes1, M. B. Himle2, D. S. Strassberg2 and A. Gillespie2, (1)University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, (2)Department of Psychology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

Adult sexual relationships are associated with physical and mental health benefits and risks. Despite the recent focus on transition issues and adult outcomes, and the interest most individuals with ASD have in sexual relationships, research on supporting health relationships remains limited. Furthermore, research on sexuality and ASD has primarily focused on males. This study addresses the need for research with females. Parents of youth with ASD have reported uncertainty about what to expect and how to support healthy sexual development. Most parents of males with ASD report covering basic topics (e.g., sexual abuse prevention, privacy, hygiene), but not other important topics such as sexual decision-making, contraception, and romantic relationships. If parents delay or omit covering such topics, youth may learn from less credible sources and have lower sexual knowledge, a known risk for victimization.


There is ample reason to believe that biological and cultural differences cause parents to engage in PCSC differently with male and female children. In this follow-up study, we determine whether previous research with males generalizes to females regarding the relationships between parent and child characteristics (e.g., ASD symptom severity, intellectual functioning), parental romantic expectations, parental sexuality concerns, and parent-child sexuality communication (PCSC).  


We surveyed 93 parents of 12 – 17 year-old females with ASD. Of these, 62 youth had average or above IQ and 31 had below average IQ. Data from parents of girls with below average IQ is not presented here due to small N; data collection is ongoing.

Simple and multiple regression was used to replicate results from previous research. Parents completed the Social Responsiveness Scale, 2nd edition (SRS-2), the Parent Sex Education Inventory indicating number of sexuality topics covered (range = 0 – 38), the Parent Romantic Expectations Inventory (range = 5 – 30, higher numbers indicate greater expectations) and the Parent Sexuality-Related Concerns Inventory (range = 25 – 125, higher numbers indicate more serious concerns).


Descriptive data will be presented on gender differences in specific topics and other variables. Results for parents of adolescent females were very similar to those for parents of males (see tables). Parental romantic expectations appear more important than concerns in parent engagement in PCSC, and mediate the relationship between SRS-2 and PSEI for the complete sample but not the subsample. Parents’ feeling of preparedness to manage sexual development and ratings of self-efficacy for engaging in PCSC are the best predictors of number of topics covered. 


Healthcare providers and other personnel can encourage parents to discuss a variety of topics in order to increase sexual knowledge and decrease risks. Providers might also engage in discussion with parents and individuals with ASD about their romantic/sexual expectations and concerns, and provide resources to parents to help increase their feeling of self-efficacy and preparedness. Researchers should (a) consider cognitive functioning as an important factor in sex and relationships research and (b) continue to replicate studies with female samples to ensure efficacy of recommendations.