Adults with autism report starkly higher rates of sexual victimization than do other adults, and the risk appears to rise with lack of sexual knowledge, according to a new report.
The study, funded in part by Autism Speaks Canada, also found that while “neurotypical” individuals tend to get information about sex from social sources such as friends, family and teachers, those with autism tend to get it from impersonal sources such as websites.
The researchers, from Toronto’s York University, urge improved programs and materials designed to help adolescents and adults with autism build understanding of sexuality and related social skills.
Their report, “Sexual Knowledge and Victimization in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” appears in the September issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
The researchers used an online survey, with responses from 95 adults with autism and 117 adults unaffected by the disorder. The participants ranged in age from 19 to 43. The questions went beyond a general "have you been sexually victimized?" to ask about specific situations such as being touched inappropriately after saying “no.”
Of those with autism, 78 percent reported at least one instance of sexual victimization. By contrast, this was true of 47 percent of the participants without ASD.
“Sadly, the findings of this study confirm the worst fears for many families affected by autism,” says social worker Lindsay Naeder, assistant director of the Autism Speaks Autism Response Team.
Knowledge decreases risk
The survey also gauged the participants’ perceived and actual sexual knowledge. Overall, increased understanding of sexual issues appeared to lower the risk of victimization among those with autism. This was also true of those unaffected by the disorder.
In response, the report’s authors have begun holding autism-specific, sexuality-training workshops for clinicians and parents in Toronto. This included a ParentTalk at the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network center at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.
Autism Speaks resources
Autism Speaks has a longstanding interest in addressing sexuality and safety issues with a wide range of materials and programs.
* The Autism Speaks Safety Project provides critical information and resources families can use to keep their loved ones with autism safe and includes a section on Recognizing and Preventing Sexual Abuse.
* The Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network is developing a puberty and sexuality tool kit for families. It will include sections on staying safe, recognizing inappropriate behavior and scripts that parents and other caregivers can use to help children, teens and adults with autism set boundaries. Look for it this fall on the Autism Speaks Tool Kits page.
* Autism Speaks has also funded a range of research and community projects related to sexuality education for youth with autism. Learn more about these projects here.
Learn more about York University’s “ASD Mental Health” program here.
Explore all the research and family-service projects that Autism Speaks is funding using this website’s grant search.
These projects are made possible by the passion and generosity of our families, donors and volunteers.
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