Healthy Realationships and Autism

healthy relationships and autismA new curriculum called “Healthy Relationships and Autism” is now available from Wesley Spectrum (a behavioral health organization with several locations in the Pittsburgh, PA area). It was designed to teach skills to adolescents and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder or cognitive challenges in the areas of self care, sexuality, and relationship development.  Their website has an example lesson to help you determine if it would be right for your students.  They do not publish their pricing information (you have to email them for more information but they will send you a sample packet).

I have not used this curriculum but there is some evidence of it’s effectiveness.  A study published in School and Educational Psychology evaluated this program with six students.  These students showed increases in sexual knowledge which they retained one month after completing the class.

PEERS Program

The Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS) was originally developed at UCLA by Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson, Founder and Director of the UCLA PEERS Clinic, and Dr. Fred Frankel in 2005 and has expanded to locations across the United States and the world. PEERS is a manualized, social skills training intervention for youth with social challenges.

There are four options for getting training in PEERS. (1) The PEERS Certified Training Seminar last two days and is hosted at UCLA.  It is designed specifically for mental health professionals and educators interested in learning and/or implementing the PEERS intervention into their clinical practice. (2) PEERS provides off-site training seminars, presentations or talks for a variety of agencies based on their specific needs.  These may range from 1-4 days, with varying costs. (3) The PEERS Certified School-based Training for Educators is designed exclusively for teachers, school psychologists, counselors, speech and language pathologists, administrators, and school-based professionals who are interested in learning to implement The PEERS Curriculum for School-based Professionals. Attendees will obtain 24 hours of training over 3 days and this training also takes place at UCLA. And (4) PEERS provides off-site School-based training seminars, presentations or talks for a variety of agencies based on their specific needs.  These may range from 1-4 days, with varying costs.

The PEERS program naturally lends itself to sex ed instruction.  For example, the adolescent program focuses on

  • How to use appropriate conversational skills
  • How to find common interests by trading information
  • How to appropriately use humor
  • How to enter and exit conversations between peers
  • How to be a good host during get-togethers
  • How to make phone calls to friends
  • How to choose appropriate friends
  • How to be a good sport
  • How to handle arguments and disagreements
  • How to change a bad reputation
  • How to handle rejection, teasing, and bullying
  • How to handle rumors and gossip

This video features a program that uses PEERS for sex ed

Puberty Videos for Boys & Girls

DVDB101_outHere are videos that were developed for 10 – 17 year olds on the autism spectrum regarding puberty & other sexuality topics.  They are clear, concrete, and move through the material slowly (this is one of the biggest problems with videos for a general audience- they go too fast!)

My favorite thing about the videos is that the male instructor is an individual with autism.

All of the videos can be found on www.coultervideo.com, a website that sells videos by Dan & Julie Coulter.  Dan & Julie are parents of a son with ASD who started creating educational videos on their vacation and now do it full time.

Videos that may be useful:

Circles and Life Horizons

Circles and Life Horizons are two of the most popular human sexuality curriculum for adults with intellectual disability.

circlesCircles has two levels and two booster packs for $1999 which covers social distance, relationship building (Level 1), social distance expanded, relationship transitions (Level 2), recognizing/reacting  to exploitation, learning appropriate protective behaviors (Abuse Booster), communicable disease, and STD/AID (STD booster).  Again you can just buy specific levels.  This is appropriate for all age groups.

life horizonsLife Horizons is $799 for the two part DVD series which covers: parts of the body, sexual life cycle, human reproduction, birth control, sexual health (Level 1), building self-esteem, moral/legal/social issues male, moral/legal/social issues female, dating/love, marriage/other lifestyles, parenting, and preventing/coping with sexual abuse (Level 2).  You can buy either level separately.  Life Horizons is very useful.  They come with a workbook that you can follow.  It’s not necessarily the most engaging and there is sometimes inaccurate information.    It’s geered towards adults but could also be used with older teens.

This company has several other family life education programs that you might find useful such as “Janet’s Got Her Period” a curriculum for people with severe intellectual disabilities.

Developmental Disabilities and Sexuality Curriculum

ImageThis is a curriculum by Katherine McLaughlin at Planned Parenthood, Karen Topper at Green-Mountain Self-Advocates, and Jessica Lindert.  I know several folks who use this curriculum and really love it.  It was developed for adults, but they have a school expansion now.  If you already have the adult version you can get the supplement school materials for free.  

I think you get great bang for you buck with this curriculum.  It covers different types of relationships, public/private, friendship, communication, decision making, moving from friend to partner/sweetheart, many roads to relationships, being in a relationship, communicating about sex, decision making about sex, challenges or things that could go wrong, do you want to have a child, avoiding pregnancy, and getting a STI.

Music- A Different Way to Teach Sex Ed

Songs for Your Body is a curriculum comprised of, you guessed it, songs.   They cover hygiene, abuse, masturbation, contraception, sexually transmitted infections, and sexual health.  You can preview the songs on their website- I liked the masturbation songs.  In general, they’re a little hokey but I think it’s a good example of thinking outside the box.  The CD is $15.41 including shipping and handling and comes with a booklet of lyrics and activities.

Program Development Associates Online Store

This online store features 33 dvd based resources for teaching human sexuality to individuals with intellectual disability.  They have resources for…

  • All age ranges
  • Boys and girls
  • Nurses
  • Advocates

Prices range from $35.00 to $250.00 with everything in between.  This could be a great place to find what you need.

YAI Online Resource Center

YAI is a agency out of New York that has a relationship video series I really like.  They also have developed a determining sexual consent manual (which you can get through their online resource center).

Unfortunately, this is not a free service, but as far as somethings go, it’s not too bad.  For $150 a year you can buy membership to the YAI’s online resource center.  You then get to download tons of materials.  They have a lot on relationships and sexuality.  Some of it is geared toward staff/educator preparedness but they also have lesson plans.  Many of the items are available to purchase separately without buying membership to the resource center (and other items, like the relationship videos, aren’t available to download).

You can check out some of the resources available during a free trial.

Sexual Abuse Self Protection Resources

Shirley Paceley is based out of Blue Tower Training in Decatur, Illinois.  She has been working with individuals with developmental disabilities for over 30 years and has specific expertise in abuse prevention and intervention.  She is available to do trainings and consultations.

Check out this online store for books and resources developed by Shirley and others for teaching about sexuality and sexual abuse prevention.

Social Signals- Curriculum

Social Signals ($159.oo) is a series of  videos and curriculum are designed to teach adolescent students with autism and intellectual disability about safe relationship skills.  There is also a parent curriculum for $23.99.  They have a sample video and lesson available for free so you can preview before you purchase.  I liked the video.  I like to teach about expected and unexpected behaviors and I think these videos could be a good tool.  There are also sample lessons that accompany the videos.

Living Safer Sexual Lives- Training Pack

Living Safer Sexual Lives is a training pack available for purchase ($57.23) for those of you who may be doing training on human sexuality and disabilities.  I have not personally used their materials, but it was developed in a very interesting way and it’s not very expensive so I thought I’d pass it along.  A research group in Australia interviewed several people with intellectual disability about their sexual lives and then used their stories to develop this training.  The training is targeted toward parents, professionals, and self advocates.  The training pack has three parts: introduction, training, and resources (including a DVD of people with intellectual disability telling their stories).

You can read the full report which outlines the findings from the interviews and how they used the interviews to shape the training.  The report also includes accounts from people with disabilities about their sexuality.

The key themes that emerged from the stories were:

  • Diversity and similarity. Diversity within the lives of the story-tellers and similarities between needs and desires of this group and other adults.
  • The issues of rights and sexuality.
  • The hidden nature of people’s sexual lives.
  • Celebration of sexuality and relationships.
  • Gender issues.
  • Loneliness and rejection.

The Circles of Sexuality

No, these aren’t the circles we usually talk about related to levels of intimacy and based on the Circles curriculum.  These circles developed by Dr. Dennis Dailey, focus on Sensuality, Sexualization, Intimacy, Sexual Identity, and Sexual Health.  I think these might make a good framework for a 5 module course or could be used to introduce the concept of sexuality.  Click here for a full explanation of The Circles of Sexuality

“Intimate Relationships and Sexual Health” – A Curriculum

Courtesy of Indiana University

Thank you to the folks at TAP in Rockford for bringing this curriculum to my attention!

Intimate Relationships and Sexual Health” is a curriculum written by Catherine Davies and Melissa Dubie who are affiliated with the Indian Resource Center for Autism.

“Intimate Relationships and Sexual Health” is geared toward folks who are pretty independent and have few intellectual impairments, so it’s not for everyone.  But they do do a nice job of showing how to think about lesson planning  that would apply to anybody.  You can see a fair amount of the curriculum on Amazon to see if it might work for you.

Hierarchy: Masturbation Training by Lisa Mitchell

Below is a “Hierarchy: Masturbation Training” by Lisa Mitchell, LCSW-R at Penn State.  Her plan for what she calls, “private touching”, was specifically developed for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, but I think it is a good general framework.  The hierarchy goes from lowest level of support to highest level of support.  Across the board, masturbation is a topic people want more information about.  I think this is a nice way to think about what kind of education or training is available as well as what you might want to try before moving on to something more intensive.  I have also included a link to her entire powerpoint.  She covers other topics/tips you may find interesting (relationship checklist, key concepts for topic areas, teaching techniques, problem behaviors).

  1. When appropriate, work with families and/or residence to establish a visual “private time schedule.”
  2. When appropriate, supply individual with lubricant, explaining that it is for use during “private time.”
  3. Meet with individual. Present illustrations of same sex persons masturbating, in conjunction with verbal explanation regarding technique.
  4. Meet with individual. Use illustrations and anatomical model in conjunction with verbal explanation of technique.
  5. Meet with individual. Use anatomically correct dolls to demonstrate appropriate masturbatory technique, in conjunction with verbal explanation.
  6. When appropriate, supply masturbatory aids such as body pillows, magazines, collages of stimulating pictures, vibrating pillows, masturbation sleeves, masturbation pumps, or vibrators. Explain safe usage of such aids.
  7. Meet with individual. Arrange for multiple viewings (when necessary) of instructional masturbation movies “Handmade Love” for males, or “Fingertips” for females. Viewings should occur in the individual’s bedroom or the private location where masturbation will be allowed to occur. Trainer may need to supply a verbal explanation while simultaneously viewing the tape to reinforce principles. (I would have the person watch on their own before feeling the need to view with another present. In general I think the videos are very good but very explicit. You could use the video in place of the verbal instructions indicated in the hierarchy).
  8. For individuals with more significant challenges, consider use of ABA type
    approach (preferably done with relatively unfamiliar trainer) to teach more
    successful masturbatory technique. Shape up steps one at a time (e.g. “Pull pants
    and underwear down”, “Lay on belly”, “Put pillow between legs”, “Rock from side to
    side”. Or “Pull pants down”, “Sit on bed”. “Put fingers around penis”, “Rub up and
    down, up and down.”) – I have heard of this method, but I do not know anyone personally who has ever instructed on masturbation at this level.  I would want to have a very comprehensive plan on how this would be implemented, full team support, and special attention paid to protecting the individual being instructed and the person doing the instruction.