Sunday, February 6, 2011

Autism & Puberty

Written by Rita Gendelman

Even though I have been working with children on the Autism spectrum for the past nine years, for the most part these children were very young thus I never really had a chance to encounter those children who have reached the age of puberty. Alas, this year, Sol a boy whom I have been working with for the past three years, and has a diagnosis of Asperger's, hit that mark of puberty in his physical development.
Prior to this experience, I have had many conversations with parents who are horrified at the idea that their typical child will one day want to explore their own sexuality. Imagine, the parents of a child who is on the spectrum? I think as a society, especially American society, we are utterly confused about our own sexuality and the lack of education that exists on the subject is not helping this matter. As a therapist I also have lack of education on how to address the needs of a child who is in the midst of his raging hormones. Given that I am working with Sol every week I decided to take this opportunity and explore how to be most useful in supporting Sol’s boundless sexual self-expression, yet allow him to make his own decision knowing all the consequences of his actions.

During my sessions Sol frequently gets up and attempts to kiss me on my lips. One of the ways in which I respond to him is by saying - “Buddy, save your kisses for your girlfriend. I, as your good friend, can offer you some squeezes on your hands and feet, or a good deep hug.” Knowing that Sol has a girl he really likes in school I explain to him how to best approach a girl, which would increase his chances of having a kiss. I have spoken to him about the idea of checking in with the girl and asking if she wants to be kissed by him, before attacking her with kisses. This lead us to many more discussion among which were topics such as:

  • Personal space
  • Communication
  • Patience
  • The physical differences between men and women
  • Sex
  • Pregnancy

Sol has been very receptive to my input regarding the delicate matter of relating to girls. The format in which I help Sol understand these different concepts is by discussions, role-playing and board games, which we both create. It’s a lot of fun!

Once we both came up with this really awesome game called “A talk show: Featuring male and female relationships.” Sol was the host and he came up with the questions. I was helping him with the interview process as his friends from the Lord of the Rings were calling to ask a question. I loved seeing the type of questions Sol told his friends to ask. He is so intelligent! Here are some of the questions he came up with, independently. I helped with the answers, however he wanted to put it in his own words.

Q: How does a boy show his affection to a girl he likes?

A: By asking her questions about her life.

Q: When does a boy break up with a girl?

A: By realizing he is not interested in spending time with her anymore.

Q: How does a man know which woman to marry?

A: The woman he enjoys spending time with the most.

I have learned so much in the last year working with Sol, regarding the different nuances of addressing the needs of a child with Autism who is going through puberty. I have also come to realize that in order to truly help Sol to successful master his own sexuality in an empowering manner there has to be a very solid foundation where everyone around Sol responds to him in a very consistent, accepting manner. However at this point, from the many conversations I had with his dad, I am very aware of the discomfort with which most of the adults in his family and school respond to Sol’s behavior.

I realize that sexuality is a huge subject and before teaching a child about their own sexuality you have to first and foremost be comfortable with your own. Working with Sol has encouraged me to look at my relationship with sexuality. And I have decided that I have a good one. However, my next step is to be able to bring my own knowledge into the homes of these beautiful children and help primarily their parents to deepen their own understanding of them selves as sexual being and impart that knowledge to their children.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this blog - there are so much to think about in our communication on sex and communication. - I would love to read more.



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