Sexual Curiosity in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Question

At this moment in time, I feel like my heart is broken. A good friend of ours contacted my husband today and said that last week our son K___, 14, said sexual things and showed dirty pictures. We asked K___ and he said nothing was said or done. When our friend came over with his 10 year old son, we all sat down and K___ just sat there as the 10 year old told how K___ put on a DVD where there were women kissing and two people having sex though they didn’t see anything. Along with the 10 year old was his 7 year old sister. K___ has a human body book and he showed the 7 y/o where the penis goes into the vagina. K___ also asked the 10 y/o if he knew that a man’s penis can go into another’s bum and did he want him to try it out on him. Needless to say, I felt nauseous and in shock. Our son has sex and puberty books, and as a rule, asks if he wants to know anything. I am totally gob smacked. I have read discussions on other websites and I know we are not alone. Other parents have young teens with an autism spectrum disorder who are sexually obsessed and confused. I really don’t know what to do. Please have you any advice you could give us.

Answer

I understand your confusion and embarrassment over your child's behavior with his friend. Sexual acting out and behavior is almost always tough for moms and dads to deal with, even when they understand that, at least to some degree, it's "normal."

Kids who demonstrate an unusual interest in sexual matters often have been introduced to it by other grown-ups, kids, or by viewing sexual material. Kids rarely express their questions about these matters openly; they "know" that sexual stuff is taboo and sometimes makes grown-ups uncomfortable. It's also possible that having intercourse explained to him when he was young has created some confusion for your child that he is "acting out" in his behavior.

One mother reported that her child with high-functioning autism was inadvertently shown a sexually explicit cartoon when he was five, and he went through several months of heightened sexual interest and questions – which gradually disappeared when he realized that he wasn't shocking his mother and that she calmly answered any of his questions. Do some thinking about what you want your child to believe about sex and intimacy, and then find ways to calmly teach and share those concepts with him.

Your child needs teaching about appropriate boundaries and behavior, not punishment. By showing gentle curiosity and asking "what" and "how" questions, you can open the door to talking about sex, rather than having him act it out. You may want to get one of the many excellent books explaining sexuality for young kids and read it together, openly reminding him that this subject has come up before and you're wondering if he has questions.

The phrase, "I've noticed that. . ." is often a good beginning. You can let him know, without anger, that “showing dirty pictures” to other kids is not acceptable, but it is okay to have questions and be curious, and that he can ask you anything. Your own attitude (kind and firm) will let him know that you mean what you say. If you are calm, open, and approachable, he may be able to relax enough to explore the subject with you.

If your child continues to be intensely interested in sexual matters or behaves inappropriately, you may want to find a therapist who is skilled in working with kids on the autism spectrum to help you and your child work through these issues.

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