Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders


Sexual Deviation in Asperger’s Teens and Young Adults

Perhaps the most obvious trait of Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) is impairment of two-way social interaction. This is not due primarily to a desire to withdraw from social contact. Rather, the problem arises from a lack of ability to understand and use the rules governing social behavior. These rules are complex, unwritten and unstated, constantly changing, and affect choice of clothing, eye contact, gesture, movement, posture, proximity to others, speech, and many other aspects of behavior.

The degree of skill in this area varies among “typical” people, but those with AS and HFA are outside the normal range, for example:
  • Many are over-sensitive to criticism and suspicious of others.
  • Some have a history of rather bizarre antisocial acts (perhaps because of their lack of empathy). 
  • Their social behavior is peculiar and naive.
  • They do not have the intuitive knowledge of how to adapt their approaches and responses to “fit in” with the needs and personalities of others. 
  • They may be aware of their difficulties – and even strive to overcome them – but in inappropriate ways.

Relations with the opposite sex provide a good example of the more general social ineptitude in AS and HFA. One 26-year-old male with AS observed that most of his peers had girlfriends and eventually married and had kids. He wished to be “normal” in this respect, but had no idea how to indicate his interest and attract a partner in a socially acceptable way. He asked some of his friends for a list of rules for talking to females, and tried to find “the secret” in various books. He had a strong sex drive, and on one occasion approached and kissed a female he had a crush on. As a consequence, he found himself in trouble with the police, and later tried to solve the problem by becoming solitary and withdrawn.

Possibly because of the absence of a reference group, sexual interests among individuals with AS and HFA may be unusual, for example:
  • AS and HFA males may become addicted to adult internet sites, and a few have attracted police attention by downloading pictures of kids.
  • Fetishes are not uncommon and may occasionally lead to forensic problems, as with the person with AS who liked to impersonate doctors and ask women intimate questions about reproduction. 
  • Many young people with AS and HFA manage to suppress their sexuality. 
  • Teens with AS and HFA may relate better to younger kids than they do to their peer group, and may occasionally make inappropriate sexual approaches to them. Older teens – and even some grown-ups – may idealize childhood, and may be sexually attracted to kids for that reason. 
  • Young people with AS and HFA may rarely get into trouble indecently exposing themselves, but this may turn out to be something that someone else (often a girl) put them up to.

Stalking is the area in which the sex life of young people on the autism spectrum gives most cause for concern. “Crushes” are common in the teenage years, and young men with AS and HFA often develop them. Although “typical” teens are aware that their feelings are not going to be reciprocated by the opposite sex, this may not be obvious to the teenager with AS or HFA who may become inappropriately attached.

There is usually an initial phase during which the object of the attraction (the female) feels a bit flattered, a bit alarmed, or very caring toward the AS or HFA male who has become fixated on her. However, there may be phone calls, inappropriate notes, or statements made to others that lead the female who is the object of adoration to decide that “enough is enough.” There is usually a confrontation that is often clumsily handled because the object of adoration is frequently someone like a teacher or nurse who has a duty of care for the AS or HFA male. The problems begin if this rejection is not accepted. The object of adoration may become an object of hatred and may be targeted with abusive calls or letters by the AS or HFA male. The female’s friends may be the victims of jealous attacks, or the female may be followed.

How can parents and teachers help? Start by providing a few straightforward relationship tips. For example:
  1. Ask the girl how she's doing or what she's reading instead of commenting on her body parts.
  2. Be aware of the girl’s personal space.
  3. If she ignores you, drops eye contact, or walks away, back off. 
  4. It’s not rude of you to approach a girl, but understand that she is not being rude if she doesn't want to keep talking to you, especially if you initiated conversation while she was running an errand, waiting for the bus, or on her computer at a coffee shop.
  5. Look at her face instead of her chest. 
  6. Males are socialized to think that females don't really say what they mean. Wrong! Take her words at face value.
  7. Not all greetings are out of bounds. There is the matter of context. For example, early-morning dog-walkers may offer courteous "good mornings" as they pass each other on the sidewalk. However, commenting on a woman's form as she walks past is not acceptable. 
  8. Talk “to” the girl, not “at” her. 
  9. Know that there can be a fine line between flirtation and harassment.
  10. Above all, treat her with respect.

Most AS and HFA males will want a girlfriend, but may feel shy or intimidated when approaching the opposite sex. They may feel "different" from others. Although most “typical” teens place emphasis on being and looking "cool," teens with AS and HFA may find it frustrating and emotionally draining to try to “fit in.” They may be immature for their age and be naive and too trusting, which can lead to social skills deficits (especially in the world of dating), teasing and bullying. All of these difficulties can cause these young people to become withdrawn, socially isolated, depressed and anxious.

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