Just like most other children and teenagers, developing romantic feelings and develop sexual urges is part of growing up.
A caveat however, because they struggle with autism, the development of kids with autism is sometimes hampered and delayed in many areas – this includes sexuality as well.
So just because they “look” the part does not mean they are ready yet and just because they may not show any signs, does not mean they are not curious.
To be sure, sexuality goes far beyond just sex, and has to do with the amount of awareness of the individual to the changes in their body and how they feel about and adjust to these changes.
For kids on the autism spectrum, this awareness of self and the changes occurring inside does not come with a corresponding awareness of the social landscape and the changes occurring outside among their peers.
Much care has to be taken to equip them with the social skills and maturity that should go hand in glove with developing sexuality.
Sexuality: What to Expect
You can be sure that sure your autistic child will get interested in sex and sexuality in due time. When the time is right, they can develop romantic relationships which may or may not be sexual in nature.
At the outset you can expect a lot of experimentation as one would expect with other kids who are becoming aware of their sexuality.
A lot of this experimentation may take the form of masturbation or same-sex experiences.
The important thing is to make sure the child gets adequate help in understanding the changes in their body, the feelings that they sometimes feel and the need for understanding and respecting the feelings of others.
Pre-teens and adolescents struggling with autism find it hard processing these feelings and find it even harder expressing them, exposing them to the danger of engaging in risky behaviour or getting into unhealthy relationships.
What Can Be Done?
Sexuality is totally natural and should be a welcome phase in the development of an autistic child. Here are a few things that can be done to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible:
Recognise and Explain Feelings
To be sure, those on the autism spectrum may struggle to understand the concept of attraction. Take time to teach them the meaning of that tingling feeling they feel around that certain someone. Help them recognise these feelings in others. The use of social stories and pictures can be very beneficial here.
Manage Sensory Issues If Any Exist
Somebody with issues about being touched is always going to struggle in relationships. Sensory issues can be mitigated by “desensitizing” the child. Start by sitting as close as the child will allow, and then gradually progress through slight touches on the hand or shoulder until the child is ready for a full blown hug from you. This may take a while, and any desensitization may be specific to you. But this should not deter you from trying.
Explain the Signs of a Good Relationship
You know your child best, and know what would constitute a healthy relationship for them. Teach them certain signs to look for that will enable them to make this decision for themselves.
Signs of a good relationship are when:
- The other person listens as much as you listen
- The other person encourages you to do only things that you are safe and comfortable with
- The other person is honest
- The other person does not tease or bully you
- The other person supports you
This will go a long way to ensure that they do not get into relationships that end up being harmful or dangerous.
Help them Weather the Breakups
Most teenage and adolescent relationships do not last forever. There are several steps you can implement to help autistic children weather the inevitable lows during this period like
- Encouraging them to hang out with family and friends.
- Encouraging them to open up about how they feel about the break
- Encouraging them to engage in things they enjoy doing