Sexual Behavior and Asperger Syndrome

Special issues for autistic teens

People with Asperger's syndrome (AS) have sexual urges just like other people do. However, there are special limitations and factors that must be considered when people with Aspergers begin to explore their sexuality and sexual urges. Because people with the condition may be hypersensitive and impulsive, a multitude of issues abound in the realm of sexual encounters.

Challenges with Sexual Behavior and Asperger Syndrome

Navigating the sensual social world is challenging for people across the board, but people on the autism spectrum may struggle with additional challenges in communication that can be difficult to overcome without guidance. People who have AS are notorious for being truthful, which is an admirable trait in most circumstances. The tendency to be blunt and direct about the topic of sex can be a little overwhelming for other people.

Maintaining appropriate boundaries can be difficult when a person isn't aware that others have different thoughts and feelings. A person on the autism spectrum may have "mind blindness" which makes it hard to interpret what others are feeling. Difficulties with reading body language and facial expressions can make sexuality a troublesome topic, especially during teenage years.

Talking About Sexual Subjects

People with Asperger's syndrome often tend to get fixated on one particular topic and will discuss that topic day and night (and night and day). If and when a person with this form of autism becomes fixated on sexuality, he or she may discuss all aspects of sex in a blunt and inappropriate manner, much to the dismay of those around. This can lead to uncomfortable social situations. Some ways to help a person with Asperger's are to:

  • Gently redirect the conversation to something neutral when sex is being talked about. You may need to do this several times before the person understands not to talk about sex.
  • Pull the person aside and explain that sex is a private topic, and others may become uncomfortable discussing it. Explain that not everyone in the circle wants to talk about sex so another topic is being brought up.
  • Avoid talking about sex if you know that the person with Aspergers is struggling with sexual urges at this point in time.
  • Use appropriate terminology when discussing sexuality with a person with AS, as the slang terminology will likely not be understood.

Touching Self Inappropriately

It is normal for teenagers and adults to have sexual urges, sometimes many throughout the day. However, most teenagers and adults have enough self control to avoid acting on the impulses until the time is appropriate. Given that many people with Aspergers are impulsive and hypersensitive, they may be likely to give into the urges whenever and wherever they strike. This can result in inappropriate touching or even exposure of sexual organs to another person. Some ways to deal with this are:

  • Stop the behavior immediately but try not to call too much attention to it. The person will likely be embarrassed at getting caught and will start to understand what he did was wrong.
  • Explain to the person that sexual urges and sexual touching is okay in certain situations, but people cannot and should not touch themselves sexually around other people.
  • Talk to the person about the private nature of sexual experiences and explain there is a time and place to experience the urges they feel.
  • Give the person a rubber squeeze ball, piece of string or other object to manipulate when a sexual urge comes on or becomes too great so they do not touch herself in an inappropriate way.

Touching Others Inappropriately

People share sexual contact with others, however, most people understand the need for consent and shared intimacy. A person with Asperger's struggles to understand the emotional and social boundaries of other people, not to mention, usually misreads or misunderstands non-verbal signs. For these reasons, a person with AS may end up touching another person inappropriately with dire consequences. Use these tips to prevent a major problem from occurring:

  • Explain the person with Asperger's that touching other people without permission is completely unacceptable behavior. Remind him of this on a daily basis if necessary.
  • Give the person time to talk about his feelings on a daily or weekly basis, either with a teacher, parent or therapist. Talking about urges and developing healthy ways to satisfy or dispel them can help the person avoid a problematic situation.
  • Remove the person from the room or area if an infraction should occur. After explaining why the touching was wrong, have the person apologize. She should then sit down with a trusted adult and talk about alternative ways to handle her urges.
  • Talk to the person about good and bad touching to help them discern the difference between what is appropriate and not in a public and private situation.

Maintaining Appropriate Boundaries

The main goal is to make sure the individual knows that sexual feelings and changes are not a bad thing, and that their behavior needs to be modified for the same reason they are taught not to hit in anger or to say "please" and "thank you" - because that is socially appropriate. Sexuality and appropriate behavior can be part of a person's treatment plan if necessary. Professional therapists may also be able to assist with evaluating a child's sexuality and establishing a personalized sexual education curriculum and/or behavior modification techniques.

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Sexual Behavior and Asperger Syndrome