How to Deal with Embarrassing Sexual Behaviors in Kids on the Spectrum

"This is an embarrassing question, but what do you do about a child (autistic) who plays with his penis in public?"

First of all, I'm impressed with any parent who attempts to address problematic issues - no matter how touchy or embarrassing the topic may be. So, good for you that you were brave enough to ask this question. And you are not alone by the way. Many parents with kids on the autism spectrum have had to work through this dilemma.

Children with ASD level 1, or High-Functioning Autism, are sexual beings just as everyone else is. However, because of their inability to control all of their impulses, they may display behaviors that are inappropriate in public. This can be particularly difficult to deal with - and of course it is embarrassing for moms and dads.

This is something you will need to be direct and proactive about. There are social aspects of sexuality that will need to be dealt with. You can use social stories to teach about sexuality as well as many other things.

It is important that your son understand good touch versus bad touch. He can be vulnerable in this area, and you want him to be prepared in order to reduce his risk.

In order to be proactive, you will need to think ahead, and decide what is appropriate to teach your son at each stage of development. When talking about sexuality, use real terms. Young people on the spectrum do not pick up on social cues, so they need concrete terms about what you are talking about.

Reinforce appropriate behavior, and when inappropriate behavior occurs (e.g., masturbating in public), parents need to redirect the youngster.

Plan ahead before going into the community. Let your son know exactly what is expected of him while he is out in the community (e.g., masturbating in public is inappropriate). If he doesn't seem to comprehend, give him something else to keep his hands busy.

Set aside some time with your son to talk about sexuality. If you only respond when an incident occurs, you may be sending the wrong message. Find out what he knows about sexuality, again using direct questions.

Find out if your son has concerns or fears about sexuality. Talk about what is "normal" sexual behavior, but also let him know what is inappropriate. Try to let him know that it is okay to have sexual feelings, and it is OK to talk about them.

If you still have concerns, talk to your son's school. They may have some programs that can be helpful in teaching more about sexuality - or you can seek the advice of a professional outside of the school.

Lastly, have you child view this video:

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

Here's what other parents have had to say:

• Anonymous said... I always stressed that it was something private, but if your child does it in public anyway, I'm not sure what to do. I could only stress to NOT punish for it. Maybe take small trips to "practice public" and reward the child for making it thru without touching himself.

• Anonymous said... I gave my son another socially acceptable habit to replace it. A spin ring worked well and he would spin it on his finger for security instead of playing with himself. He used to do it all the time and now at 12 doesn't need it must of the time.

• Anonymous said... If the child is verbal, discuss the legal perimeters and consequences....designate a place and a time that is appropriate. Ie..bedroom/bathroom. "In private" is the key lesson here, not to eliminate self stimulation.

• Anonymous said... My 9 yr old and 7 yr olds do this all the time. Mostly at home, but will quite happily sit in the lounge quietly playing with themselves. We do stop them and expl ain that they need to do that in the privacy of their bedroom, however it often takes quite sometime before the message gets through... we just carry on repeating it until it eventually gets through... still an ongoing battle. An aspie/ASD trait or just a boy thing? I dont know, but they do need to learn. All thing sexual do seem to fascinate my 9 yr old...

• Anonymous said... When I see my son with his hands on his winker in public, no I didn't misspell, I say hands in the air. Then he knows to stop and isn't embarrassed. For him it's more a security issue. He feels safer when he holds it. I've noticed if he gets scared from a loud noise, his hands go straight down there.

•    Anonymous said... My son does it all the time, he even tries to show people

•    Anonymous said... well,my son doesnt so much 'play with' but does have tendancy to 'hold himself' inappropriatly.i simply remind him[calmly + quietly] that we are in public + that's an activity for the privacy of his room.

•    Anonymous said... my 9 year old had a sort of adjustment he would do. this would include his hand going down his pants. he told me it was like an itch that had to be scratched. he had "no control like the onset of a cough". I started with telling him to do it over the pants if he must do it at all. it took a long time with MANY reminders but I think he now understands that it IS inappropriate. I do catch him sneaking an adjustment in when he believes no one can see him.

•    Anonymous said... Doctor says to remind them that those are their "privates" and that they should only touch them in PRIVATE. It helped alot!

•    Anonymous said... What do you do with an Aspergers teenage boy that has become obsessed with it?

•    Joann said...Yes my soon has this issue also, it started in kindergarten. Very shocking to me to say the least. The advice here is great. Private only and it seems to happen more when they are bored.

•    joy said... my stepson has issues with touching others.I have sought help from teacher,dr,and child and family services.What do I do now?

•    shanti said... My 9 year old son is an Aspie and he says he does it without knowing.I got him a Fidget toy.Anything stimulating that fits in his pocket.His is a squishy little bird with little feeler things on it.Got it at the Dollar Store.You have to redirect their train of thought and routine.Being that Aspies are extremely compulsive and repetitive in certain mannerisms they like a switch in self soothing.

•    Anonymous said... OH my God, my son is an ADHD child, he's only 6years now . his is a bit different he seem pleased with any open flesh around him. especially a fat woman's arm , thigh or open breast from a top. he would touch softly put his cheek around the area press with his elbow and finally he puts his genital and starts rubbing against say the thighs, and he is so happy about it. its so embarrassing, and neither does he talk nor does he seem to understand. I attempt to beat him or scare him and he will repeat this within a few minutes. I used to think maybe he saw this on the TV OR maybe saw us in that moment which I don't think he did, but this proves it all wrong because his younger brother who just turned two and is also an ADHD CHILD. Is showing same signs, whenever u give him a hug he will press u with his genitals more. is this biological do they have extra sex hormones or what.
help me please

*   newone644 said...Beating a child will never help in the long run. It is only short term results with long term damage that varies from child to child. I have this same issue with my now 8 year old High Functioning Autism/ADHD child and after carefully and clearly explaining the reasons why this had to only be done in private, we came up with the code word “dragons.” I say dragons and his hands go straight down and this child has never been spanked even a day in his life. Be sure to reward every minute you see your child catch themselves or successfully not doing it. Kids love to please and by saying a code word you make it stay positive and not turn them into thinking something is wrong or bad about themselves. That’s how bad people form in my opinion and is labeling a child.
*   Anonymous said...I am opposite. I have autism and am not able to even look at my private part. It's always made me uncomfortable

*   Unknown said...My 13 year old started squashing his penis with his thighs at the age of 6months, he does it most of the time; IT'S SO EMBARRASSING, he is non verbal, I'm just lost and stressed

*   Anonymous said...My issue is different…my 4 year old grandson has begun rubbing up against my pup and getting an erection…so clearly a sensory situation. His mother tells him to stop…and he does, but with no explanation, I know he will just start sneaking to satisfy his need. Just not sure what and how much to say to a 4 year old. He doesn’t speak much, but he definitely understands…any suggestions greatly appreciated.…

*   Hogan said...My son has ADHD and has been suspended for masturbating at school.

*    Anonymous said...My son is 11 and just started this issue. He is stage 3 non-verbal, with most of the sensory disorders that can come with ASD. Food, clothing, light, and the worse one is his sleep cycle. He has always had a yoga ball for play and excersize, and he even uses it for stemming. However this past week he has started humping it by laying on his back and placing it on his genitals over his diaper and a blanket. So far he's only done it in front of myself, his dad, and his grandfather (my father). He has not done it in front of his adult sister or her boyfriend, or the baby our granddaughter. Who also live with us for the moment. I have noticed it happens during down time during times he may be bored. I don't want to take his ball from him it's too important for him especially the stemming, but have to do something. He's definitely embarrassed if we see him, but also doesn't want to stop when we tell him. If his dad tells him to stop he blatantly ignores him, but if I tell him to stop he stops immediately. I've explained a few times that that's private and not to do it in front of us. But so far that's not really working, although I do know it takes repetition and time, so I will keep at it. I'm just hoping to find more information on how to deal with him doing this. Thanks for the little venting spot, and any information given further.

*    Sasha said...My son does it to but he only seems to do it when we have family friends over when it is just us (me him my husband and his 2 brothers) in the house he does not seem to do it we talked to a docter about it and the docter said just take the yoga ball away when he does it and give it back to him in 2 days we did that once and he was just so depressed so we gave it back within 4 hours of taking it and now we don't know what to do

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