Kate E. Reynolds

  • Review of 'Sexuality and Severe Autism.'

    Book review by Elaine Nicholson, CEO & Counsellor

    Action for Asperger’s, registered charity 1148790

    www.actionforaspergers.org

    Reynolds forte is finding an autism-related subject that many would not conceive, like this, her latest book ‘Severe Autism and Sexuality’. Her previous book ‘Party Planning for youngsters on the Autism Spectrum’ was another unusual subject area for a writer of autism-related material, yet she did so with aplomb and expertise. This latest book is no exception. In my opinion it is another ingenious piece of work and shows how Reynolds professionalism (she previously worked as a AIDS/HIV Counsellor) and her familial expertise (she is the parent of a severely autistic young man) have come together to create a sagacious, sensitive, and hence, informative read.

    Reynold’s says ‘this book is for those with severely autistic young children, seeking guidance about sexuality, when to introduce the subject, what to say and how to say it’ (p.9). In addition, she tackles the difficult subject of how to approach or address concerns when severely autistic children become adults and difficulties concerning sexuality arise at that juncture. She talks about how sex education for the severely autistic population needs, what she describes as, ‘wholesale re-thinking’, based on the fact that many children leave school with only a minimum of sex education knowledge.

    However, this is not simply a book that can educate and inform. Reynolds makes the point that the book is also about ‘protection’ and that severely autistic children need to possess a broad sexual knowledge, from knowing the correct names for body parts (and understanding their function in sex), to how to recognise and report abuse. Furthermore, concepts such as desire, libido, masturbation, transgender, same-sex and solo sex activity are discussed, along with advice regards Genito-Urinary clinics and their function. She also discusses why it is important not to raise a severely autistic child to think it ‘normal’ to share a bed with a parent/carer, and she explains why… that it is for the child’s protection against a less-benevolent bed-sharer. In a similar vein, she explains why it is a good idea to educate a severely autistic child in public lavatory use and etiquette, and again, this is about protecting the child against possible predators. Reynolds makes it clear that overprotection by parents/carers can leave severely autistic children more open to abuse, and states with confidence that a severely autistic child is capable of more self-protection than they are perhaps given credit for, which means that parents have a duty to make their child or children savvy about sex per se in today’s world.

    Reynolds gives helpful guidelines on how parents can better educate their severely autistic child on the subject of sex, and avows that greater understanding on the part of both parent and child can reduce anxieties and is enabling for both parties. She also discusses how severely autistic children can, in turn, educate their parents, and affords the reader an insight into her personal life, and of how she purposely mimicked her own severely autistic son’s stimming routine to such an extent that ‘…for the first time he stopped, looked at what I was doing, then looked at my face’.

    In summation, Reynolds states that intellectual disability should not preclude severely autistic children from exploring their individual sexuality. She asserts that sexuality is, after all, ‘… an integral part of all humanity’ (p.181). Reynolds message is clear: that sex education is recommended not just for the severely autistic child, but is recommended for the parent and/or carer also, and is therefore a critical concept that should be grasped for the ultimate long-term benefit of both parties.

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