Parent Perceptions of Sexual Education Needs for Their Children With Autism

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Primary responsibility for sexual education for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder falls on parents who have reported a lack of professional and material support. The purpose of this study was to 1) describe parent perceptions of sexual education needs of their children aged 14–20 with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis and 2) determine parent-preferred mechanisms of delivery for tailored educational intervention strategies.

Design and methods:

The study aims were accomplished by a qualitative research design using focus groups and telephone interviews assisted by a structured interview guide. Study methods and analysis were guided by social marketing principles.


A total of 15 parents (5 participated in 1 focus group and 10 completed individual interviews) acknowledged their primary role in providing sexual education for their children and confirmed a need for resources to assist them in this role. All parents in this study found that some level of sexual education was necessary and important and that all children had been introduced to sexual information but in varying degrees. Topic preferences included those that would increase the recognition of healthy relationships, provide a measure of self-protection, and ameliorate undesirable consequences of sexual activity. Parents were knowledgeable about how their children best learned and suggested future interventions use technology interfaces with engaging displays and allow for individualized content.

Conclusion and Implications:

These findings highlight a need for additional research and enhanced clinical services to ensure that adolescents with autism spectrum disorder have their informational needs met, are able to avoid risks, and have the greatest capacity for a healthy sexuality as they transition to adulthood.

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