It is difficult to determine the exact risk of sexual abuse for individuals with ASD. For one thing, reports of sexual abuse in the general population can vary widely. The first national survey reports victimization rates of 27% for women and 16% of men (Finkelhor et al., 1990)*- and many studies seem to report findings similar to this. A study has shown that children with disabilities are 1.7 times more likely to experience sexual abuse (Crosse, Kaye & Ratnofsky, 1993)*. In this study all children with disabilities were examined, not just individuals with ASD . Individuals who are caregiver dependent may be at the highest risk as family members, family acquaintances, and paid caregivers are the most likely to commit sexual abuse (Mansell et al., 1996)*. Difficulties communicating, lack of knowledge of sexual norms and activities, and isolation may contribute to increased risk of sexual abuse among individuals with ASD.
So what can you so? Here are 5 places to start.
Have a clear reporting procedure of any suspected incidences of abuse or neglect and use it!
Don’t hug, kiss, hold hands, snuggle or in other ways compromise professional boundaries. Not only does this potentially mask dangerous “grooming” by sexual predators, it also communicates that individuals with disabilities are asexual.
Sexuality education 🙂 may provide opportunities to for individuals to be better able to communicate and better understand social norms and activities thus giving them tools to better understand if abuse may be taking place.
Teach folks to say no! When we don’t provide structured opportunities for people to say no, then when they need to they don’t know how.
Don’t let sex be a taboo. If everyone is afraid to talk about it, they will be afraid when there is a problem also. Also, perpetrators will be deterred by the open communication.
The Department of Human Services in Illinois is targeting ending violence against women with disabilities. Click here to learn more!
*Link takes you to an abstract of the original article.
Navigating developmental stages, education, and sex education can be extremely difficult. The Birds & The Bees team put together a parent tip sheet that offers basic information and resources for parents of autistic children. View the tip sheets in the slide show and download below.
Mad Hatter Wellness is a company that creates comprehensive sexual health programs that teach and empower people with intellectual disabilities. Their curriculum Sexuality for All Abilities, contains activities and lessons that cover many different topics regarding sexuality and relationships. This is a holistic program that combines mindfulness techniques to address sexuality topics and provides a safe environment that ensures growth and learning. They offer a student and an adult option of the curriculum and can be purchased for $375 at the link below.
On top of this, Mad Hatter Wellness also sells other tools to help teach and practice topics that are covered in the curriculum. Their Boundaries Flip Book that form sentences regarding boundaries. It created discussion for healthy boundaries, as well as highlights what is okay and what isn’t, and when these behaviors are appropriate. On top of this, they also have a Family Discussion Guide, which offers activities, information, and discussion questions that will help families discuss healthy relationships and boundaries. In addition to these, they offer self-paced online courses, and more physical resources that can be used to implement the curriculum.
While many other household items are changing and being developed more accessibly, any industries regarding sex often stay avoided. Sex is such a taboo topic in general, even more so in the disabled community. There are many rumors and assumptions made about sexuality in the disabled community, the most prevalent myth is that people with any type of disabilities don’t have sex or experience sexual pleasure. However, that’s not true. Sex is a basic human function, and everyone, regardless of ability, is entitled to it. Many times, sex toys are extremely inaccessible for people with physical and intellectual disabilities. Whether they’re not easy to physically work with, or they’re too stimulating, sex toys aren’t usually designed with all types of bodies in mind.
Come As You Are is an online business specializing in high-quality, ethically sourced, and affordable sex toys for all ability levels. This company has a wide variety of sex toys that are designed to work for people with all types of disabilities. When making their toys, they keep topics like mobility, privacy, fatigue, and many others in mind when creating sex toys. They are very transparent about how their toys are made, and they take suggestions about how to better improve their toys and make them more inclusive. They say, “It’s our experience that doesn’t come ‘naturally’ to everyone. We consider it our responsibility to do the hard work that makes it easier to explore.”
On top of this, their website has many articles and resources that talk about inclusivity in the sex industry. Their articles discuss choosing the right sex toy depending on your ability, information about condoms, and many other aspects of sexuality. They encourage embracing sexuality healthily, despite your skill level, and are pushing the sex industry in a more inclusive direction!
Oak Hill Center for Relationship and Sexuality Education (CRSE) looks to educate and increase access to important sexual health information through various preventative programs. They also aim to decrease the vulnerability to sexual abuse that the intellectual/developmental disability community endures. They offer different curriculums, workbooks, parent/caregiver workshops, professional development workshops and therapeutic education.
Their most recent curriculum, Positive Choices, is designed for secondary students and aims to improve critical judgement about sexual health and relationship safety. On top of this, students will learn life skills, safe boundaries, women’s and men’s health, healthy relationships, and sexuality. This curriculum can be purchased on the Oak Hills website and costs $430. The teacher’s manual can be purchased for $180, and the student workbook is $25. Information is linked below: http://relationshipandsexuality.oakhillct.org/positive-choices/
Open Future Learning is a company that offers a wide variety of online training for staff, or anyone else working with individuals with disabilities. They offer modules in abuse prevention, communication, advocacy, and many more topics. They have staff training modules, 30 minute programs, and an audio learning module. Membership can range from $112-$2263 per month, depending on the amount of active users. Linked below is Open Future’s Homepage.
Health Connection is a company that designs sex education curriculum for teachers. Teen Talk: Adapted for All Abilities is an adaptation of their Teen Talk curriculum, and is designed to cater to 7th to 12th grade students with disabilities. This is an adaptation of This curriculum focuses on tolerance, respect, and personal values articulation. It addresses topics like sexuality, gender roles, and reproductive healthcare. This curriculum also uses gender inclusive language. The Adapted for All Abilities can be purchased for $345 (plus tax). You can find more information at the link below:
Elevatus offers a variety trainings staff, direct support professionals, educators, self-advocates and parents to teach sexuality education to children and adults with developmental disabilities. In addition to their trainings, Elevatus has a sex education curriculum that can be purchased.
Here are examples of some of their trainings and the costs:
For Staff and Professionals – Developmental Disabilities and Sexuality 101 ($397)
For Parents/Guardians – Talking With Your Kids: Developmental Disability and Sexuality ($47)
In-service/live workshops and a 3-Day Certificate Training ($725) for anyone who wants to lead sexuality education classes with people with developmental disabilities.
The Friendships & Dating Program (FDP) offers inclusive teaching plans for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. A unique aspect of this program is its emphasis on preventing interpersonal violence. There is a version of this program for youth with serious emotional disturbance. The FDP focuses on skill development through experimental learning and group activities with an interactive 10-week curricular plan. Interested groups can purchase the curriculum on its own ($600) or purchase the curriculum in combination with a train the trainer support provided live online ($1,800). You can find more information about the FDP from the below link. Some module illustrations are available on the website.
These days, it is hard to find an age appropriate content about sex, dating and abuse. Children have questions about their bodies, gender and reproduction. Teenagers worry if their bodies are developing normally or not while older adolescents struggle with peer pressure, changing relationships and emerging sexual feelings. AMAZE is an amazing website for parents and educators which helps them to expose their child to age appropriate content about sex through short videos. The website provides an insight to young people to successfully understand puberty, healthy body image, distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships, concepts of consent and mutual respect. Video topics are designed to meet the learning objectives outlined in the National Sexuality Education Standards.
Parents are the primary sexual educators of their children. By answering children’s questions, a parent let them know that you are “askable” and establishes an open line of communication that will serve you and your children well as they mature into sexually healthy young adults.
AMAZE also has resources for younger children like the parents’ playlist from amaze jr. It is designed to help parents become comfortable and confident talking to their children openly and honestly at any age.
This video will help parents to know when to talk about sexuality with their kids.
Do you think so playing “doctor – doctor” is safe or not? Check this video out which helps you to communicate your thinking and others about this game.
This video will model to the adolescents with disabilities to learn about manage their relationships with person they like or have attractions. This video guide them to deal with peer pressure and make healthy relationship.
This video helps your child to understand their body parts, difference between a male and female, and similarities between boy and girl.
Raising an individual with a disability presents a different set of obstacles then an abled individual may, but one topic that all parents must address is sexuality. Individuals with disabilities are sexual beings and therefore deserve an education on sexuality. While parents may acknowledge this need, finding resources and strategies to present the information may be more difficult if you are raising an individual who requires a different method of learning.
The Sexuality Resource Center for Parents provides a well rounded variety of information pertaining to sexuality. The website includes a section of information labeled “for all parents” that contains subjects they believe are useful for all children. In addition, they provide sections titles “For parents of children of typical development”, “For parents of children with developmental disabilities”, and “For parents of children with physical disabilities”. In each section, you can find a variety of information such as basics, specifics, activities, and additional resources. They also include tip guides!
The Sexuality Resource Center for Parents works to provide a better, comprehensive information base for parents to use when addressing sexuality to their child. The variety of knowledge is extremely useful when trying to find information to meet your child’s specific needs. In their own words, their mission statement claims “It’s time to acknowledge that children with developmental disabilities will become adults with sexual feelings, and as such, we must provide them with the information and skills they’ll need to become sexually healthy adults.“
In a world of increasing accessibility, more and more clothing brands have begun producing products with accessible modifications. Unfortunately, undergarments and lingerie are important categories often forgotten. Individuals with disabilities are sexual beings and have the right to feel confident in their own bodies just as able-bodied individuals, and accessible underwear is a major factor in this.
In order to shine a light on these hidden categories, it is important to understand what accessible undergarments aim to do. Accessible underwear provides clothing that can be used by individuals with disabilities; Understanding that not everyone can use common closures or typical underwear styles. Accessible lingerie is also a growing category.
Slick Chicks, a growing adaptive underwear business, is a prime example of a company combatting this issue and empowering individuals with disabilities. The company sells a variety of accessible underwear and includes many images and videos to show just how easy it is to use their garments. They are specialized for women who may be in wheelchairs or have limited mobility but can be used to improve the accessibility of underwear for many individuals.
Another excellent resource is Devovere, an Etsy shop, aiming to provide lingerie that is made for you. Through custom orders an individual can request front-facing closures or adjusters, velcro closings rather than clips or buttons, extra fastenings, and more for no extra price. The owner of the company identifies as disabled and has set out to make inclusive clothing.
Sexuality and Disability is a free blog dedicated to providing a resource for women with disabilities. The blog answers questions pertaining to sex, the body, relationships, and more in a safe and open discussion. The welcome statement of the website encompasses this;
“Our site starts with the premise that people with disabilities are sexual beings – just like anyone else. sexualityanddisability.org is constructed as a bunch of questions a woman with a disability might have – about her body, about the mechanics and dynamics of having sex, about the complexities of being in an intimate relationship or having children, about unvoiced fears or experiences of encountering abuse in some form.”
Sexuality and Disabilityalso includes an award-winning section that appeals to many individuals with disabilities that contains stories from the point of view of an individual with a disability and gives an in depth and realistic view on sexual topics.