Parent Newsletters and Research about Sexual Behavior and DD

This series of parent news letters is available in English and Spanish.  They provide guidelines for families in regards to talking about sexuality topics.  They are not adapted for children with special needs, but I thought they could be useful regardless (especially the more general issues).  On this page the also have a fact sheet (English only) that has a lot of data about teens sexual behavior.  There is very little (almost no) information about the sexual behavior of adolescents or adults with developmental disabilities but I’ve summarized the research that is available below.   (You would need access to an academic library to read the full articles cited below for free).  Despite the limited research, most people (be they parents or professionals) come to my workshop because they already know people with disabilities have sexual intersts!

There have been several studies that suggest that individuals with ASD have a desire for intimate relationships (Henault & Attwood, 2002; Van Bourgondien, Reichle, & Palmer, 1997; Ousley & Mesibov, 1991). These studies may define “interest” as instances of sexual behavior.  For example, one study that reports the majority of 89 individuals with ASD living in group homes in North Carolina displayed some sort of sexual behavior (Van Bourgondien, Reichle, & Palmer, 1997).  Other studies define “interest” as self-reports of sexual activity and knowledge (Ousley & Mesibov, 1991). In both cases they are reacting to earlier studies that reported that individuals with ASD (and other disabilities) had no interest for intimate relationships with others (Despert,1971; Rumsey, Rapoport, Sceery,1985) and common myths that report individuals with ASD to be asexual (Irvine, 2005).

Despite the trend to move toward a more accepting view of sexual interest among individuals with ASD and other developmental disabilities, there remain questions as to what extent individuals with disabilities are interested in sexual activity. For example, most studies look at sexual behavior however individuals may be interested in intimate relationships even if they are not displaying sexual behavior. Some studies have shown that individuals with more knowledge are less likely to want to engage in sexual activity (Konstantareas & Lunsky,1997); however it seems that the relationship between access to sexuality education and the desire for support with relationship development remains unclear.