General Information

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are developmental disorders, characterised by difficulties with social interaction, poor social skills, difficulity with perceiving and understanding social signs, and repetitive and stereotyped behaviour and limited imagination. These are all symptoms commonly seen in people with ASD, however, people in the spectrum can differ strongly from each other.



Adolescence is an important stage in a person’s development due to the many physical, emotional and social changes. During this stage of life, changes in a physical level as well as in a psychosocial level develop significantly and with a rapid pace. As a consequence of this general transformation, adolescents start shaping their romantic and sexual interests.

Adolescence starts with multiple physical changes due to the hormones that are developing in the human body. As a result, a girl’s body starts changing into a woman’s body and a boy’s body starts changing into a man’s body. Each gender goes through different procedures during puberty (puberty refers mainly to the psychical changes). At the same time, multiple and rapid mental and emotional changes occur during adolescence (adolescence refers mainly to the period that is characterised by cognitive and emotional changes). This is also the starting point of (adult) sexuality: Adolescents start developing a sexual interest and preferences and usually have their first sexual experience. Finally, masturbation is a sexual action that has a strong presence during this period. Developing sexual behaviours require contact, information exchange, abilities on approaching the other person and interaction. In other words, there is a need of communicative and social skills.

Adolescence can also be a period of emotional and behavioural difficulties. In the area of sexuality, a lack of knowlegde might lead adolescents to experience unprotected sex, unwanted pregnancy, confusion in sexual preference or sexual offences.


Psychosexual development in adolescents with ASD

Considering the difficulties with changes and social interactions adolescents with ASD face, it becomes evident that they will have an increased difficulty in psychosexual development in comparison to adolescents without ASD. Specifically, adolescents with ASD have trouble perceiving another person’s perspective or realising that a behaviour which it is desirable for them, might be undesirable for another person. These aspects are fundamental as sexual desires and preferences are exclusively leaded by personal needs. Furthermore, adolescents with ASD have difficulty recognising negative reactions or social boundaries, a difficulty that can result in sexual deviant behaviour.

In the level of shaping an intimate relationship, adolescents with ASD find it difficult to develop such a relationship as it is characterised by unpredictable factors and constant changes or complexity in sentiments. Moreover, weak Central Coherence that characterises people with ASD might lead to misinterpretation of social messages or giving a message the wrong explanation (too restricted or too literal). Finally, hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity often appears to adolescence with ASD, something that becomes an obstacle in experience sexuality and therefore developing a balanced intimate relationship.


Problems recognized by parents and caretakers

Parents and caretakers have mentioned several problems related to sexual behaviour, for instance, behaviours that miss the feeling of embarrassment such as public masturbation or use of inappropriate sexual words. In addition, there is a great concern about the inability or recognizing cases of potential sexual abuse or victimisation and the lack of knowlegde regarding sexually transmitted disorders and birth control.


Receiving proper information

Receiving information about sexuality and developments around this is fundamental for adolescents, as adolescence is the starting point of sexual life. The main sources of information for an adolescent are parents, peers, media and sexual education in school. For adolescents with ASD perceiving and reacting to information differs from adolescents without ASD.

For instance, parents who address to an adolescent with ASD have a significant difficulty in communication, as it is necessary to give explicit and repeated explanations. Parents have indicated in research that they have worries about the communication with their child. Adolescents with ASD interact and engage less with people, thus, they have difficulty in developing relationships and, therefore, friends. Moreover, media doesn not offer proper sexual information, so as to give a complete image to adolescents with ASD due to the difficulty they have to decode information and to segregate and select proper and realistic information. Finally, sexual education in schools it is one of the most important sources of information, although it still rests a taboo around the topic or sexual education to adolescents.

It must be underlined that it is not only important to provide sexual education to adolescents with ASD, but also to pay attention to the way with information is given. In other words this information must be adjusted to their needs and capabilities. Additionally, paying attention to the way information is given decreases the chances of giving limited or insufficient sexual education.

Training material

The manual of the Tackling Teenage Training is available online (only in Dutch) For more information