Kate E. Reynolds

  • Sexuality and Severe Autism

    For anyone who follows this blog it may seem that I’ve been having a holiday for the past few weeks. Perhaps I have, at least from blogging. Instead I’ve been completing the next book for Jessica Kingsley Publishers. And the subject? Sexuality and severe end autism. I gave myself a year this time and, as happened with my first book, anything that could, did go wrong. My two children seemed to be magnets for every virus and bacteria in the area. Being at different schools, they introduced to our household different strains of infection, which they generously passed to each other, becoming unwell at separate times but usually for several days. Eventually, having nursed each of them to health, I would succumb and recover just in time for one or other child to have contracted something else.

    Determined to stop the cycle, I remember hearing one of the lead coaches for Team GB stating that he’d introduced a strict hand-washing regime to reduce infections in his athletes. What’s good for the 2012 Olympics is certainly good enough for this corner of Wiltshire. So I started trailing behind my son, reminding him to clean his hands, while he wearily bleated ‘No wash hands’. I pasted signs by each wash basin depicting someone washing hands with the words ‘now wash your hands’ underneath, like a public campaign. I plonked packs of baby wipes on numerous surfaces and would produce one or two wipes whenever my son came in the room. He became so irritated by my impromptu hand wiping routine that he started spending most of his evenings in his bedroom or would enter the sitting room with his hands firmly behind his back. I’m not even convinced any of my actions had an impact, aside from irritating my offspring. I just comfort myself that things might have been close to epidemic if I hadn’t intervened.

    So to the book:

    When I started reading about autism, some 7 years ago, I was sure this book had already been written. There seemed innumerable books about sexuality and autism. What I didn't appreciate initially is that they all referred to the higher functioning end of the spectrum. The needs of those at the more severe end appeared to be addressed only in tomes about sexuality and generic learning disabilities. Over time, of course, I’ve learned that most parents of severely autistic children don’t regard them as having learning disabilities, so they don’t access the many resources for this group. It is also true that autism’s inherent challenges in communication mean that resources need to be quite specific in approach to be useful to this client population.

    A year or so ago I attended a sexuality workshop for parents of autistic children. Most people there were mothers with specific questions they needed answering or wanting support with practical sexuality issues. Usually these were along the theme of inappropriate behaviours in public. Unfortunately, what we parents received was a broad outline of sexuality as it applied to the general population. Having facilitated too many sexuality workshops to quantify, I was disappointed to discover that very little appeared to have changed in the 14 years since I ran my last one. The information seemed the same and the facilitators made the mistake of not gleaning from us what we needed to know and not engaging with the precise likely issues for parents and carers of autistic children. I set out to remedy this.

    In order to write this latest book, I trawled autism websites, asked direct questions of parents and caregivers and met with several highly experienced practitioners. The following is the ‘blurb’ about ‘Sexuality and Severe Autism: A Practical Guide for Parents, Caregivers and Health Educators’ due to be published in September this year:

    Sexual health and sexuality can be difficult subjects for parents and caregivers to broach with autistic children, made more challenging when children are at the severe end of the autism spectrum. Some parents may even question the validity of teaching sexuality to those who are severely autistic.

    This practical handbook guides you through the process of teaching about sex and sexuality, answering all of the most crucial questions, including: Why is it necessary to teach this subject to my severely autistic child? When is the right time to start talking about these issues? How detailed and explicit should I be? What methods are most appropriate? It addresses male and female issues separately and covers public and private sexual behaviours, sexual abuse, cross-gender teaching and liaising with school, in addition to the more obvious areas such as physical changes and menstruation.

    This will be the ideal guide to teaching about sexual issues for any parent, caregiver or health educator caring for a person on the severe end of the autism spectrum.

    Contents

    1. The Context of Sexuality and Autism.

    2. A Framework for Teaching Sexuality

    3. Boys and Men.

    4. Girls and Women

    5. Appropriate Behaviour.

    6. Recognising and Reporting When Things don't seem Right

    7. Long-term Future.

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