Sexual Awareness and Autism - Sexual curiosity and behaviors within young -children...Bright Tots - Information on child development - Autism information.
Sexual Awareness and Autism
Sexual curiosity and behaviors within young children are an important part of development whether the child has autism or not.
The curiosity ranges from questioning, to looking at others, to “playing doctors” to imitating adult sexual behavior. In the early
years, we give children information on being a boy or a girl. It is also helpful to give them correct names for their body parts
including penis, vagina and anus. These terms should be taught using relaxed and open language. Through all these phases the
child is learning more about his/her body which is a positive approach to self esteem and learning to have respect for their own
body as well as others.

Children will fondle themselves during early childhood. Not responding to this behavior is fine in the early years. As more
children with autism are integrated in the community, access to sex education becomes essential for them to understand the
sexual standard established by society. Training, guidance and support are needed for parents who desire to be the primary sex
educator for their child with autism. Sexual awareness is normal. Sexual feelings are normal, and there are many ways of
expressing one's sexuality. If a person has a disability, it does not change any of this.

People with disabilities are sometimes harassed and treated as less than someone without a particular disability. This can have a
deep impact on the individual's self-identity. Often, people with developmental disabilities feel they are bad or that something is
wrong with them. In addition, they can feel that their normal sexual feelings are also bad or wrong. Humans' sexual drive is a
natural process; it is not optional.


Masturbation is an issue that can present behavior problems at all ages. Masturbation is a form of self stimulation common in
autism.  Stimulating activities that are pleasurable are common in autistics. Interacting with children on the autism spectrum who
masturbate can provide additional concern as the behavior often occurs in inappropriate situations. For the parent it can cause
concern in being able to explain and guide the child to understand that there is a time and place for private acts.  In addition, this
kind of behavior can create strong emotional reactions from adults due to the sexual and moral beliefs.

Children with autism don’t understand that masturbating in public is improper they may need constant reminders and repeated
interruption. In managing this behavioral issue it is important to take each child and his/her behaviors in perspective and respond
according to your familiarity of the child and situation. It is important to be creative in your approach and open to learning from
the child and yourself. It is normal for all children to explore their bodies. Masturbation is a normal part of life. Some children
have learned to comfort themselves by touching their genitals and will use this at sleep times, during stressful periods, changes
in routines, environment and additional changes occurring within the family such as a new baby in family, or moving to a new

Redirecting Masturbation

Remember that children who are very young are primarily pleasure-seeking beings, and almost all of their behavior is intended to
meet that goal. And young children learn ways to soothe themselves. Stimulation of the genital area can be one of those ways.
Because you don't want it to develop into a habit pattern, it is best to distract the child, but in a casual manner. There is really no
need to 'set limits' around the behavior, but interrupting it by redirecting and distracting can be useful.

Rules and limits are a part of life. Children need these to help keep themselves, others and the environment safe. Guidelines
establish clearly for children what it is you want them to do. Example: Rule. “Don’t run inside” is translated to Guideline “we
walk inside”. These same principles apply to children who masturbate at inappropriate times. The development of proper
behavior occurs over a period of time with repeated reminder of rules and limits established. Depending on the skill level of each
child the rules and limits are not necessarily changed but presented and re-enforced in ways that allow children to understand
and take part in the process of enforcing the rules and limits. This process is an important part in the development of children's
social skills, communication and being a valued member of society.

In some cases, children with autism, succeed on consistency of behaviors, rules and routines. As long as the adult is constant
with the rule and what is said, the learning often is accomplished and the child will be able to comply with the requests given.
These aspects are normal for all children but may be emphasized for a child with autism due to the specific behavioral
characteristic the child may display. If the child is masturbating in his/her room or in a private manner it seldom is a problem.
Each child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder will be different and individual.

The following strategies are just some examples which may be useful to support the behavior guidance process. This list is only
the beginning and it depends on a variety of factors such as environment, length of time child is in care, child’s interest, likes,
dislikes, skills already achieved. The strategies are divided into developmental areas however some strategies overlap and assist in
a variety of developmental areas.

Helpful Strategies

•        If the child is verbal, does he/she ask specific question about body parts, reproduction or intimacy. If so aim to respond
accurately and appropriately to child’s developmental age. Avoid using nicknames about body parts and keep answers brief and

•        Observe the child when the masturbation occurs to assist in what may trigger the behavior e.g. end of day, at rest time,
anxiety, separation from parent, being excluded by other children, noise level of environment.

•        If the child is masturbating in front of others respond “You have found that feels good but it is also something that is
special and private. I would like you to wait until nap time or when you are at home”.

•        Provide the child with other ways to comfort themselves such as carrying a cuddle toy, manipulating clay or other
sensory materials.

•        Aim to interrupt the behavior without showing emotional reaction.

•        Redirect the child to an activity that will distract them from masturbation.

•        Ensure that the child’s clothes are comfortable and not too tight, too loose or curled in order to avoid the child’s attention
to the genital area.

•        Ensure that all caretakers are consistent with the response and redirection to where everyone uses the same words each

Some individuals with autism may need specific instructions about social expectations. Some manners, ways of expressing, or
sexual etiquette may not have meaning for them in the same way a person without autism might experience them. For these
individuals, it is important to provide them with an abundance of information about social rituals and restrictions. Role playing,
discreet reminders when in public and observation are all helpful.

As the number of children diagnosed with autism continues to rise, so do the growing demands for services by families.
However, little attention has been given to simplify parents' understanding of their children's emotional and behavioral
characteristics of sexual development. While increased public awareness of the impact of autism has led to the advancement of
many family-centered services to help parents, there is still a shortage of support services to teach parents how to address the
growth and development of sexual behaviors of their children with autism.

There appears to have been little research into the sexuality of people with autism. Regardless of what we do not know, it is
clear that many people with autism do have a sex drive and express it through solo masturbation, exactly like the majority of
adolescents. As parents, it is critical that we give our children a loving understanding of human sexuality. If we give them the
message that their sexuality is special and natural, then they will have some information with which to balance the conflicting
messages they may receive from the beliefs of society.
Sexual Awareness and Autism
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