A 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 They do not publish their pricing information (you have to email them for more information but they will send you a sample packet).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.
Over the summer, I did a 8 week sexuality class with middle school students with autism (3 boys and 3 girls). I’ve posted each lesson from the curriculum, but I thought I’d link all the posts together so you could get to them in one place. For each session there is a lesson plan, parent letter, and power point slides. Some lessons also have worksheets. I’ve also commented about how the lessons went and some ideas for adaptation. Click on the links below to go to the posts and access the materials.
*We sent home a workbook with follow up/supplemental material during this lesson. The workbook is available on the post.
During week 4, we focused on understanding crushes.
There were three activities for the participants this week:
What is a crush?
The participants first brainstormed things that a person with a crush might feel or think. Participants had different levels of understanding on what having a crush meant to them. The purpose of this activity was to help the participants to understand that crushes are a special set of thoughts and feelings about another person. We later discussed thoughts and ideas that the group may have that may be unsafe when it comes to having a crush.
How to deal with a crush?
We used three videos to help the participants to understand how to deal with a crush. The videos covered these topics: What if you like a friend, How to tell if a guy likes you, and How to get a guys attention. These videos give concrete ways to deal with a crush.
Turning someone down
We used a video about how to say no to deal with a variety of situations when it comes to turning someone down.
For more information and activities on crushes visit our Human Sexuality 101 Week 5- Crushes and Adult Human Sexuality Week 3- Crushes curriculum
This Week’s Material
Week 4 Powerpoint
Intimacy was the focus of week 5. This concept can be difficult to understand because it is very broad so this is how we talked about it in our class.
We talked about how intimacy can be divided into two parts: physical and emotional. Physical intimacy involves expressing ones feelings for another person through a physical manner (holding hands, hugging, kissing, and sexual activity). While emotional intimacy involves the feelings towards another person. It is based on how comfortable you are with someone and how much you can share with them. It is important to understand that there are levels to intimacy and that it is not necessarily just for two people in a dating relationship.
For this week’s activities, we opened up with a discussion on the numerous ways to have intimacy with someone. During group time, our plan was for participants to create a “Intimacy Chart”.
We provided them with pictures displaying different types of intimacy ( holding hands, hugging, etc.) and asked them to write down how each of the pictures made them feel. After that we arranged the picture in order to what we felt would be the natural progression of relationships. To finish off the activity we categorized each picture based on whom we are comfortable doing those actions with. The main purpose of the “Intimacy Chart” is to help the participants to visualize the different types of intimacy.
Although this was the plan, one of our students had a different idea of how she should do this activity. She asked for a folder and then decorated it with her boyfriends name. She then put the different acts of intimacy she felt comfortable with in the folder. At first, she didn’t want to share which behaviors she had chosen, but then she decided that she would share. What a great spontaneous adaption!
For more information on intimacy visit our Intimacy Activities and Adult Human Sexuality Week 6- Physical Intimacy and Human Sexual Response
This Week’s Material
Parent Letter Week 5
The main activity this week was a series of worksheets designed around walking participants through the steps of having a crush: places to meet someone, why you notice someone, deciding to talk to them or not, signs of being interested, approaching someone, asking out on a date, and saying “No”. Probably the most difficult question on the worksheets was, “why do you notice this person?” Many of the participants focused on things the would like if they got to know someone. It took several prompts, but they were able to start thinking about the things they notice about others, the things that draw their attention. When we got to different ways to approach someone there were many questions on bar etiquette. We talked about buying drinks for others, when it’s expected to approach people and when it’s not, and the difference between the bar sitting area and table sitting area. We didn’t get to our final activity, but were were going to sequence the road map with pictures of couples at different stages. We have a little bit of a time management problem because there’s no clock in the room. It’s the little things!
We gave them two additional resources this week. First we sent them to a website on how to build self confidence. We also suggested the book, What Men With Asperger Syndrome Want to Know About Women, Dating and Relationships by Maxine Aston.
Get all the materials for this weeks lesson
The previous week focused on crushes so this week’s topic, dating, was a natural extension. We did a lot of role playing and it went wonderfully. We were able to pull out parts of the role play to reinforce many of the different concepts. The last time I had done role playing was with middle school students- adults are just so much different to work with. They took the role plays very seriously and put a lot of effort in. One of the actors did turn out to have a comedic streak so the activity was fun as well as thoughtful.
We also did an activity where we asked participants to think about the characteristics in a relationship that were most important to them. We had a couple red flags on the list (like one about physical mutuality) and they were all tuned into why that is important. This activity lead to a nice open discussion where we talked about other items on the list that were important to us. For the most part, people in the group are really centered on having similar interests and values.
Free free to use the materials we’ve developed.
Materials for this week
For those of you who have come to a workshop, this activity was similar to what we did in the workshop. We thought about power and control in relationships and specifically the benefits of having more power, benefits of having less power, drawbacks to having more power, and the drawbacks to having less power. Once we got it all up on the board we used put a circle in the center and talked about how different situations would be red flags that a relationship would be unsafe. We also did a shortened version of the “What Should I do Worksheet” and role played some of the different scenarios (like one friend calling another friend because her boyfriend just told her there was a greater age difference than she assumed).
We want more people to get good sexuality education so feel free to use our materials. If you improve on them, let me know!
This Weeks Materials
One of the participants in our group loves to do trainings and so we included a online training program to identity dating violence in teen relationships. You may find this site really useful too. Dating Maters offers a 1 hour and 20 minute training that will allow you to identify examples of teen dating violence and understand the consequences of teen dating violence. The training will teach you the risk factors, protective factors, warning signs, and challenges for seeking help for teen dating violence. The material is a good starting place for adult relationships too.
This activity can be used to teach about different intimate activities, either alone or with a partner. All of the actions come in a word list form and in a visual form. The activity includes a continuum worksheet in which activities can be classified as “less intimate” and “more intimate”.
One way to use this activity is to teach what sex is. We often assume that people understand what sex is, but people have difficulty with understanding sex even when it is explained. First list the acts of intimacy in a continuum and then discuss “where sex starts” or “which activities are sex and which ones are not. This is more difficult than it seems. For example, it is not uncommon for students to start with thinking that “kissing above the waist over the clothes” is sex. When we teach this activity, we encourage students to express their own understanding of what is more or less intimate but because the concept of a spectrum is difficult, we guide them at the anchors of what is the most inmate and least intimate. By seeing sex in the context of different sexual activities it helps fill in some of the gaps.
Instead of a continuum you could use categories- the categories we use help reinforce the idea of a continuum as well. There is also a list of different levels of intimacy that can be used to classify these activities. Using the activity in this way is consistent with the concept of postponement- postponing intercourse until a relationship is more serious of formalized.
Sometimes when people see all the different acts of intimacy they are surprised but it is important to be inclusive of all different forms of sexual expression. We also don’t use all the different acts with every group, but we’ve given you a pretty comprehensive list that you can tailor to meet your student or child’s needs.
Download the intimacy activity intimacy activity pictures or with just words.
Levels of Intimacy
Flirting can be a difficult subject to talk about because it always varies. This aid has some typical behaviors that are flirting, maybe flirting, and not flirting. It’s important to note that this is not a exhaustive list and that some of these behaviors are not guarantees of flirty or not flirty behavior, but it is a great place to start the conversation. This activity can be used to steer a conversation about how and when flirting occurs, and the fluidity of these behaviors.
Download the signs of Flirting activity here.
What is facilitated sex? This brief video explains what facilitated sexual activity is and some of the considerations.
Dr. Mitchel Tepper is an expert in the area of sexual health, disabilities, and medical conditions with a specific focus on physical disabilities. His website can connect you with a lot of great information (I especially like his blog).
Some things to keep in mind about facilitated sex…
- Facilitated sex is a continuum. Dr. Sarah Earle suggests it might include providing sex education, fostering an environment that allows intimacy, the procurement of sexual goods, and arranging for paid-for sexual services.
- Many individuals with disabilities would be unable to participate in many parts of sexual expression without some level of facilitation.
- It’s not that abuse and victimization aren’t concerns- they are! It is also important to consider how to support individuals with exploring sexual pleasure and sexual facilitation is part of that picture.
There are many different ways to make visuals: cut and paste from magazines, jot down words and images, use Boardmaker, use power point…
For each method there are different pros and cons and a lot can be said for something that’s just plain easy to use. I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with a visual that has been made quickly- if it gets the message across, it doesn’t have to look nice.
But sometimes it is important for for a visual to be ascetically pleasing- and I wanted to share a free tool that’s available for making infographics (what marketers and advertisers call visual supports). It’s not particularly easy to use and it takes more time, but in the end you have a nice looking product. I would use this I wanted to make something I could use over and over (it’s worth the time) or if I was working with someone who thinks my regular visuals are “babyish”. You have to be careful about resisting the temptation to over clutter. There are several different generators, but for no cost, this one has the most flexibility and is relatively easy to use. http://www.easel.ly/
This visual goes along with the “What Should I do?” exercise we did during the workshop. You can download this visual as a PDF.
This topic generated a lot of good discussion. Our group was a little distracted today (maybe because we had a week break). For next week we’re going to try a few different classroom management strategies so we can try to spend more time focused. We’re going to simplify the rights and the responsibilities and give them 3 rules (no talking when I’m talking, no hitting, and no mean comments). We’ll also use a visual stop sign for if the group gets out of control. I’ll keep you posted how it goes! Having said that, despite distractions, I’m confident the group did learn a few things about crushes.
Activities this week…
What is a crush?
Students brainstormed what a person with a crush might be thinking and feeling. Students varied in their level of understanding as to what a crush is. This activity helped students understand that crushes are a special set of thoughts and feelings about another person. They will learned from each other what those thoughts and feelings are. None of the students in our group expressed ideas about what a crush is that would not be safe if acted upon (I was thinking someone might say something like, “I just want to stare at the person all the time and follow them around.”) We were ready to address any of the items from the brainstorm that were unsafe. In later discussion we labeled some ideas as unsafe.
How to deal with a crush
We’re used a short video to outline four steps for managing a crush: don’t tell everyone, hang out with mutual friends, talk to them directly, and don’t take it personal if they don’t like you back. As we watched the video we filled out a worksheet. The video gives very concrete advice for how to manage a crush. The questions on the worksheet helped students think about what they might say and how they may feel when trying to manage a crush.
This is where they got a little distracted. In the future, I would shorten the worksheet so there is only one question per tip. I would maybe have them work on answering the questions with a partner, then sharing with the group.
Turning someone down
We introduced students to three strategies for turning someone down or saying “NO”: no with a reason, no with an alternative, and no and go. We introduced these strategies as a way to avoid unwanted crushes. They can be used in many contexts, but especially in the future, could be use to avoid unwanted sexual behavior. Students role-played saying no in different ways to someone who has a crush on them. The role-plays worked really well! Role-playing can be difficult but it’s a great tool for rehearsing concepts that your hoping students will be able to perform in the future.
Materials for this week
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.
Here is an example of a five point scale that was developed by April Keaton, LCSW, to explain the different levels of relationships. The pyramid shape was used to convey that you might have a lot of “friendly acquaintances” but much fewer “long term relationships”. It was important for this person to connect the level of the relationship with the level of intimacy so you see examples of intimate behaviors at each level of the pyramid. There’s also an element of time built into the descriptions. You wouldn’t have to start with pyramid filled out. You could start with a blank pyramid and support an individual with filling in the levels. You could add names of individuals at each level. You can download the pdf of this image by clicking here.
A workshop participant put me in touch with this awesome resource (thanks Cate!). Impact is a newsletter from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration which is part of their Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. They have many products and services that you may find useful (many of which are available online or at little cost). Their newsletters contain ” strategies, research, and success stories in specific focus areas related to persons with intellectual, developmental, and other disabilities. ”
The sexuality issue has several interesting articles written by individuals with disabilities, service providers, family, and community members. In addition to the articles, the newsletter provides information about additional resources in several areas: education, parent support, advocacy, sexual health, and sexual safety.
The story in Impact that touched me the most was one about two men who were harshly punished for their love for one another while institutionalized but were finally able to be married. Once they were both living in group homes and reunited…”they decided they would not live together, they would not have sex, until they were married. They had been punished so often, told continuously that they were dirty, sinful, hateful creatures, that they needed to get married ‘liked other people.'” Dave Hingsburger* commented “How we hate the hearts of people with disabilities! We have caged their bodies, disfigured their genitals, drugged their thoughts. But we have never, ever captured their hearts or controlled their spirits.”
*The link in the text is to Dave Hingsburger’s blog. He is the author of several resources for teaching human sexuality and abuse prevention to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The resources can be found at Diverse City Press.