Talking About Sex With Your ASD Child

Updated on October 10, 2017
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Christiansen's son, Jackie, is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). She is the author of Planet A: A Mother's Memoir of ASD.

Social issues can be difficult for an ASD child.
Social issues can be difficult for an ASD child.

Talking About Sex With Your ASD Teen and Tips to Help the Conversation Go Smoothly

When my son, Jackie, entered eighth grade, I knew that Health class was on the horizon. Up until that point, he had no interest in Sex Ed and was embarrassed to talk about the birds and bees. Since many ASD kids mature at a slower rate, I didn’t push it. Then after attending his first Health class, he came home from school and began asking questions. His vocabulary for the next few weeks centered around anatomically-correct words that he felt compelled to say repeatedly. He fixated on these words and began to ask questions that he didn’t feel comfortable asking in class. It was all very overwhelming. Here are the tips that helped us navigate those rough waters.

1. Don’t be embarrassed: I know it’s easy to say and harder to achieve, but keeping your cool will help your ASD child feel comfortable talking about these issues. Dancing around the topic will only confuse him and make him feel as if it’s wrong to talk about sex. It’s better if he gets the information from you so be bold and face it head on. Since ASD children have a lower maturity level than their peers, if you’re embarrassed, they will be too.

2. Be honest: Say it like it is. Use the anatomically-correct terms and processes. If we say, for instance, that a baby grows in a mother’s stomach, that is confusing for ASD kids, even those of high school age. My son believed that he could carry a child because he had a stomach until he discovered the word uterus. Because they are black and white thinkers, they will believe what you say with no room for innuendo. Also, talk about consequences with your child. They need to know that since they are now old enough to have these kinds of conversations, they are old enough to know that their actions in life have very real consequences.

3. Only answer the question: Many of the questions that my son asked me were basic. There were times when he wanted to know more about his own body and some of the changes that he was going through. It’s important to answer only the question that your child asks without going into too much detail. The more information that you give may cause an ASD child to become overwhelmed or confused. Keep it basic and simple. There will be time to touch on deeper issues as they grow and become more comfortable talking openly. The main thing is to make sure that you really do answer the question. I found myself on the internet several nights trying to find the medical answers that I needed before I shared my personal beliefs with him.

4. Contain the conversation: Because these words and ideas are new, many ASD children will want to repeat them, sometimes for weeks. Our house was filled with Sex Ed talk for a full month. If you’re open to it, the privacy of the house or a bedroom is the best place to have these conversations. It’s a good idea to set guidelines for this. Because we talked freely in our house, my son believed that these conversations were fine in public as well. He would ask me a question out of nowhere while standing in line at the grocery store. I quickly set the boundaries, explaining that these were personal conversations. He could ask me anything while we were at home alone, but should not talk about health issues in public.

We’ve come a long way since eighth grade health class. I was amazed at how little he knew and how much information he had wrong. I’m glad that I took the time to be open and honest, even though it was difficult. I know that if I hadn’t, my son would have believed anything and everything that he heard in the boy’s locker room. I discovered that much of the locker room banter centered around myths and most of it was completely inappropriate. Now he has the facts. He continues to ask me questions from time to time, but he isn’t compelled to talk about it all the time. I think that there was a lot of maturity that came from those conversations and it was a learning process for me too.

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