Sex education is a difficult area for many parents to broach with their child- whether they have autism or not- it's important to plan ahead and get your story straight. Irrespective of whether your child is a potentially sexually active young person or a curious child who wants to know how babies are made, be prepared for lots of questions.
The good news is that there are lots of great resources out there to help you as, surprise surprise; you're not the first to have to deal with the subject.
The bad news is that if you have a child with autism you can't fall back on the euphemisms and metaphors employed by so many people when talking about sex. No birds and bees allowed!
It's important to know where your own comfort levels talking about sex lie and to think about how you're going to deal with the inevitable questions which fall out with them. If you have a partner, talk to them about this too and share the load. If you're a single parent, think about whether school, youth workers or medical professionals already involved in your child's life can help.
Although there's still plenty of potential for embarrassment on your part, dealing with the biology of sex is perhaps the easiest aspect of the subject. Honest!
Many children with autism are interested in and comforted by facts, figures, diagrams and the like. The reassurance that their body is- more or less- like everyone else’s is a useful place to start and also keeps the subject, initially at least, generalised rather than personalised. There are lots of great books, websites and apps that can help you talk about sex and reproduction with your child and you'll find some links below.
There is of course more to sex education than biology but we'll look at this in a bit more detail- and offer more resources - in the 'Relationships' section of this website.
Remember too that talking about sex with your child is likely going to include questions about heterosexual and same-sex relationships. Regardless of your own sexual-identity, religious or cultural beliefs, it's important to be prepared to deal with these questions too. It's important to stick to the facts and talk about these issues in as honest a way as possible.
It’s also worth bearing in mind, particularly if your child has Asperger's syndrome and is of average or above average intelligence, they're going to go looking for answers themselves if they don't get them from you! At best they might ask a teacher or visit the library. At worst they'll find all the wrong information online or be misinformed by well-meaning but equally uneducated peers. It’s worth talking to them about safe and trusted places online to look for sex advice, such at TheSite.org, and FPA.
So find yourself a good book or website and get prepared. Combine this with the right information on making and maintaining relationships and you're setting your child up to be informed, happy and confident.
What you can do to help
- Be prepared
- Be honest and open
- Be prepared to deal with questions outside your own comfort zone
- Find help from other sources; partners, friends, school, your GP
- Use resources suitable to your child’s learning style
- Remember- an interest in sex and relationships is an important developmental milestone!
SEN Magazine has a useful article on autism and sex education.
The Autism Sex Education website has a lot of information on the subject as well as links to a wide array of books on the subject. They also have links to a large number of online multimedia resources.
The BBC's science and nature website has interactive microsites which look at puberty and its effects on the body.
The FPA’s website has lots of resources for parents and carers on how to talk to their child about sex education and relationships