Sexuality and the sexual rights of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have long been discredited and ignored. However, individuals with ASD are sexual beings as made evident through advocacy, academic literature, and research. Individuals with ASD experience challenges with social interactions that often become more pronounced as their sexuality develops which could lead to potential negative consequences such as social isolation or stigmatization. Proponents of sexual education for individuals with ASD underscore the positive role sexual education has through puberty and adolescence. Sexual education could help to establish critical social skills that are transferable into adulthood and the healthy development of sexuality. Canada is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which outlines the necessity of equal access to sexual and reproductive health care and services for people with disabilities. In Alberta’s Guide to Education, the Human Sexuality Education policy states that all students from grades 4 to 12 are to receive sexual education as part of their public education curriculum. However, many individuals with ASD continue to experience significant barriers to accessing sexual education within Alberta’s public education system. The implementation of the Human Sexuality Education policy has yet to be consistent for all individuals within Alberta’s public education system, specifically for the ASD populace. Many individuals with ASD received no sexual education throughout their schooling. The objective of this project was to review the experiences of individuals with ASD and identify present barriers to sexual education within Alberta’s public education system. A literature review was conducted to provide information and context regarding the intersectionality of sexuality and ASD and barriers to implementing sexual education. Key informant interviews were used to assess and provide feedback on key findings from the literature while providing insights from an Albertan context. These key informant interviews consisted of a sample of sexual health educators who specialize in providing sexual education curriculum to individuals with disabilities, including ASD. Findings from the literature and research support the importance of sexual education for individuals with ASD. Identified issues related to the experience of sexuality by individuals with ASD includes challenges in understanding boundaries and a lack of sexual knowledge. Individuals with ASD do express desires to find romantic partners and to develop sexuality in a healthy fashion. However, individuals with ASD are often deprived of learning opportunities to support the development of healthy sexuality. Promoting the development of healthy sexuality can lead to improvement in quality of life and self-determination in adolescence and adulthood. Barriers to sexual education for individuals with ASD continue to be persistent within Alberta’s public education system. Negative assumptions and stereotypes of the sexuality of individuals with ASD pose a significant barrier to sexual education. Additionally, educators report low levels of comfort and confidence in providing sexual education within the classroom and often lack an accountability measure to ensure the consistentdosi implementation of sexual education. However, there has been a significant increase in demand for sexual education for individuals with ASD in recent years, signifying a growing priority and shift in attitudes for sexual education for individuals with ASD. To address the implementation challenges of Alberta’s Human Sexuality Education policy, three recommendations are outlined: (1) a formal assessment of sexual knowledge of individuals with ASD; (2) increasing funding to existing organizations; and, (3) mandating specific professional development content for educators. Future considerations include adapting sexual education curriculum to meet the learning needs of the ASD population and the development of an accountability framework for educators. Ensuring consistent implementation of sexual education will help to support the healthy development of sexuality and foster inclusion for individuals with ASD.
Lau, A. (2019). Implementing Sexual Education for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder within Alberta’s Public Education System (Unpublished master's project). University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.