Sex and Relationships Education and Autism

On Friday the 6th of March I was lucky enough to attend the FPA Autism, Sex and Relationships Education Conference in Glasgow. The conference was organised by the FPA Autism strategy (who teach SRE to Autistic young people in Scotland), as an opportunity to enlighten teaching staff and health care professionals working with autistic young people about the importance of SRE specifically to this group, and the best way in order to deliver it.

Autism is a life long developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to other people. It also effects how they make sense of the world around them.
— National Autistic Society

As autistic young people can struggle to understand what is going on around them, this puts them at risk of being taken advantage of sexually and/or emotionally, thus good quality and person centred SRE is vital for these young people.

Furthermore, as well as not understanding what is inappropriate behaviour by others, some autistic young people do not understand that their behaviour can also be inappropriate. Therefore it is essential to educate these young people about inappropriate touching and masturbation for example.

FPA recommended that in order to successfully deliver adequate SRE to autistic young people it is necessary to ‘go back to basics’ and cover aspects of puberty (regardless of age), as just because a 25 year old has undergone puberty they may not fully understand why this happened. Therefore it is essential to explain why and how these changes take place in the human body.

One of the speakers at the conference was an autistic woman who explained the difficulty she felt when going through puberty; she didn’t want her body to change and didn’t know how to cope with it. For example she didn’t understand how to choose between tampons or sanitary towels, or how to treat acne. But once she understood these principles she found puberty a much more bearable experience. Therefore this supports the need for more explanatory SRE particularly to young people with autism.

The FPA Autism Strategy covers multiple aspects of SRE including anatomy, puberty, masturbation, contraception, STIs, pregnancy, consent, relationships and many others. This is to give these young people the most complete understanding of sex and relationships as possible.

As well as delivering SRE, the FPA Autism Strategy also supports young people with autism with dating and offers them help and advice on how to go on a date in a safe but still enjoyable environment. They suggest telling someone you know (like a parent) where you are, and keeping in contact with them regularly, and also giving the young person a ‘card’ with conversation starters if they start to get nervous. It is support like this that will allow these young people to enjoy a safe and healthy love life, just like anyone else is entitled to.

Unfortunately I cannot cover all aspects of the conference in this article, but if you would like to find out more about the FPA Autism Strategy take a look at their website.