Despite evidence to the contrary, misperceptions of autistic individuals as disinterested in, or incapable of, intimate romantic relationships persisted for decades. Over the past ten years, personal accounts, media representations, and emerging research have changed our understanding of autism, effectively debunking the marginalizing belief that all autistic people prefer to be single. Contemporary research underscores that autistic people desire and pursue intimate romantic relationships no differently than the general population. However, due to past misconceptions of autistic sexuality, little attention has been given to sexual education and safety for autistic individuals and their families. A lack of personal and clinical education combined with communication and social differences leaves many autistic people prone to abuse and maltreatment. Traumatic experiences like sexual victimization during childhood can have lifelong effects on mental health and quality of life. Research on the intersection of sexual victimization, trauma, and autism is in its infancy. Still, more must be done to educate and safeguard autistic people, especially children. Effective education and treatment programs must be collaborative, individually based, and support autistic sexuality.

“We need to think about sexuality as biological. If you are a human, you have sexuality. Someone’s autism diagnosis does not preclude that… If you are a human, if you have a body, you are a sexual being. There is a tendency to see someone with autism, and particularly profound autism, as childlike. And then [they think] that they shouldn’t be having sexual thoughts or sexual behaviors [and view them as] kind of deviant… So, I think that is the first myth or the first reeducation that is needed.”

Amanda Tami, LPC, BCBA (Interview, August 2023)

Chronic maltreatment and sexual victimization

The majority of research literature to date has focused on the risk factors and prevalence of bullying in autistic youth. However, recent findings highlight the range of victimization experienced by autistic individuals across their lifetime (Libster et al., 2022; Hwang et al., 2017; Twyman et al., 2010; Holfeld et al., 2019). A 2016 study found that almost 89% of participants (N=262) experienced at least one victimization in their childhood. Further, 92% had experienced poly-victimization within the last year, where the type of maltreatment varied across incidents (Pfeffer et al.). Common types of victimization experienced by autistic children and adults include bullying, abuse, and assault (Rumball, 2018). Chronic maltreatment, especially interpersonal maltreatment (maltreatment by familiar others), frequently carries into adulthood  (Pearson et al., 2022; Gibbs et al., 2022). Autistic adults experience more interpersonal maltreatment than non-autistic adults, and the pooled prevalence rate for poly-victimization across the lifetime in autism is 84% (Weiss & Fardella, 2018; Thrundle et al., 2022). It is critical to note that victimization is more common among autistic females than autistic males and the neurotypical population (Dike et al., 2022; Roberts et al., 2015; Sedgewick et al., 2016; 2019). 

Know the Signs

Reports of sexual abuse from children must be taken seriously. However, self-reporting of abuse does not always occur. Therefore, it is important to understand the warning signs of sexual abuse. Common behaviors in autistic children and teens who have been abused include the novel presentation or increase of:

  • Nightmares and/or other sleep difficulties
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Withdrawn behavior
  • Meltdowns and/or stimming
  • Self-injurious behavior
  • Stereotypical and/or repetitive behaviors
  • Overtly sexual behaviors
  • Change in eating habits or behaviors
  • Refusing to change clothes for gym class
  • Improper hygiene

Sexual victimization of autistic youth is of particular concern. Current research on the prevalence of sexual victimization clearly shows that autistic individuals, especially those with profound disabilities, are at greater risk for unwanted sexual contact, violence, and victimization (Brown et al., 2017). Autistic youth are three to four times more likely than non-autistic youth to experience sexual victimization, and between 40% and 50% of autistic adults report experiences of sexual abuse during childhood (Thrundle et al., 2022; Gibbs et al., 2021; Gotby et al., 2018; Weiss & Fardella, 2018). Similarly, autistic adults report a higher prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse than the neurotypical population (Gibbs et al., 2021). A 2022 investigation into violence experienced by autistic adults found that 75.4% of participants (N=110) reported sexual harassment, and almost 60% reported experiences of sexual violence compared to 56.4% and 28.2% reported by non-autistic participants (Gibbs et al.). Like the general population, female-presenting autistic individuals are at higher risk for experiencing sexual victimization and violence (Dike et al., 2022). An online survey found that as many as nine autistic women out of every ten have experienced sexual violence, where 75% of study participants (N=225) reported that their first experience occurred during childhood or adolescence (Cazalis et al., 2022). 

“I can think of a lot of female Autistics who adapt who they are, and morph into a situation to blend in… And when you’re younger, again, more often amongst girls, they watch other young people and try to copy and learn how to be in the world that we’re all part of. But when you’re trying really hard to fit in with your peers, you tend to go along with things that you probably wouldn’t do otherwise. And all of those things open doors to disaster.”

Dr. Wenn Lawson, autistic author, professor, and advocate (Interview, August 2023)

Trauma and quality of life

Aggression and victimization are often experienced as traumatic events that can predispose individuals to long-term psychiatric and physical difficulties. Research literature asserts a link between childhood victimization and co-occurring mental health problems across the lifetime (Juntilla et al., 2023; Adams et al., 2016).  In fact, adverse childhood experiences, especially sexual abuse, can fundamentally shift the developmental trajectory of biological, behavioral, and psychological processes throughout the lifespan (Sachs-Ericsson et al., 2015; Kerns et al., 2015). Co-occurring mental health conditions in autism are frequently attributed to physical and environmental factors. However, the high prevalence of sexual victimization and trauma reported by people with autism prompts another avenue of investigation into underlying mental health conditions. 

Research clearly shows that autistic people experience mental health difficulties, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), more frequently than their non-autistic counterparts (Ng-Cordell et al., 2022; Haruvi-Lamdan et al., 2020). A 2016 found a statistically significant relation between the presence of trauma and mood symptomatology, where almost 90% of youth with clinical-level psychiatric symptoms had experienced at least one trauma (Taylor & Gotham, 2016). Similarly, a 2020 study found that 32% of autistic participants had co-occurring PTSD symptoms compared to 4% in the non-autistic group. Autistic females were also more likely to experience PTSD and reported more negative life events than neurotypical adults (female or male) (Haruvi-Lamdan et al., 2020). Trauma-related disorders significantly impact overall quality of life (Jaoude et al., 2015; Hassan et al., 2017). Victimization and subsequent trauma symptomologies in autism are specifically associated with anxiety, social isolation, a lack of trust in oneself and others, a loss of self-worth and acceptance, increased severity of core autism traits, and mental health difficulties (Hoover, 2015; Pearson et al., 2022; Haruvi-Lamdan et al., 2018; Fuld, 2018; Sachs-Ericsson et al., 2015).

“These experiences don’t go away. They live in our subconscious and they are often triggered by the proximity of another person in an intimate relationship. Like I have [experienced] with my wife, who I absolutely adore. But feeling cornered or closed in, or any of those sorts of feelings can trigger me to feel really uncomfortable… All the sensory things that go along with somebody being close to you, with someone’s breath on top, you know, breathing on you, and it’s pretty uncomfortable if you’ve been exposed to sexual abuse.”

Dr. Wenn Lawson, autistic author, professor, and advocate (Interview, August 2023)

Suicide rates in autism range from 11% – 66% and significantly more premature deaths are caused by suicide in autism than in the general population (Hedley & Uljarević, 2018; Kõlves et al., 2021; Kirby et al., 2019).Trauma derived from sexual abuse during childhood is a significant and specific risk factor for suicidal ideation in adulthood (Bahk et al., 2017). Feelings of shame and guilt rooted in sexual abuse have been implicated in suicide risk and some therapies proactively address these targets to decrease depressive and suicidal symptoms in trauma survivors (Olliver et al., 2022; Kealy et al., 2017; Sekowski et al., 2020; Alix et al., 2017). The high rates of sexual victimization, trauma, and suicidality in autism merit specific and immediate investigation into their intersection. To allow comprehensive investigation and intervention development, deliberate action must be taken to remove the shame and guilt that surround these topics. 

“I would say decreasing the shame around [sex] is the most important thing we can do. [We need to] make it something that is okay to talk about. [That] requires teaching kids how and with whom to talk about it appropriately. If we can make it something that’s okay to talk about, to ask questions about, to notice – ‘Oh, I see that this thing is happening. What is that?’ – Then that provides the opportunity for education. For fewer high risk situations, for asking for help when it’s needed, and for reporting when something terrible does happen.”

Amanda Tami, LPC, BCBA (Interview, August 2023)

Risk Factors

Sexual knowledge and education

Lack of sexual knowledge is a significant predictor of sexual victimization, but actual knowledge partially mediates that risk (Joyal et al., 2021; Chianese et al., 2021; Brown-La. voie et al., 2014) For example, a 2021 study on psychosexual knowledge and education found that autistic adults had less sex-related knowledge and higher rates of victimization compared with neurotypical respondents (Chianese et al., 2021). Research also shows that autistic adults and caregivers universally report dissatisfaction with the sexual education provided by schools due to a lack of autism accommodations in the content and teaching style (Hannah & Stagg, 2016; Barnett & Maticka-Tyndale, 2015; Lehan-Mackin et al., 2016). In most cases, primary responsibility for sexual education falls to parents and caregivers who lack professional materials and support and may feel uncomfortable discussing such topics (Lehan Mackin et al., 2016; Kenny et al., 2020). A 2019 literature review found that caregivers of autistic children frequently omit critical information about relationships and sexual health, like how to decline unwanted sex, not pressure others to have sex and correct condom usage (Solomon et al.; Holmes & Himle, 2014; Mehzabin & Stokes, 2011; Hénault, 2006). Compoundingly, more than half of healthcare providers note that their lack of training and access to accurate information hinders providing sufficient psychosexual education to autistic patients (Holmes et al., 2014: Volkmar et al., 2006). 

“For a lot of people, there is no good sex education. And then you add an autism diagnosis to that and [they need to consider] how you teach someone, potentially with communication challenges, something that you’re not allowed to talk about, in a way that they will understand… For all people, I think that first and foremost, consent needs to be addressed.”

Amanda Tami, LPC, BCBA (Interview, August 2023)

Due to this lack of social support and education, many autistic individuals turn to the internet for information about relationships and sexual interactions (Chianese et al., 2021). Internet sources are not always verifiable, and many sites promote unrealistic and sometimes unsafe conceptions of what intimacy, romance, and sexual interactions look like (Solomon et al., 2019; Pecora et al., 2016). Without complete sexual knowledge and social understanding, autistic individuals may not understand that what they see online is not acceptable or safe in real life (Hooley et al., 2020; Weiss & Fardella, 2018; Latvala et al., 2022). Rates of sexual perpetration by autistic individuals are similar to the non-autistic population (Young & Cocallis, 2023; Weiss & Fardella, 2018; Dewinter et al., 2016). However, the intersection of sexual knowledge, victimization, and perpetration is complex. For example, parent-report studies consistently record autistic children as less experienced in typical sexual behaviors while simultaneously displaying inappropriate sexualized behaviors. These may include allowing or seeking physical contact with family members/friends, touching themselves or others inappropriately, and intrusive dating behaviors that can be interpreted as stalking (Dekker et al., 2017; Ginevra et al., 2017; Stokes et al., 2007; 2005).

[We often] try to find the things we can relate to on the internet that we might not be able to find in everyday life connecting to other people… So [if someone is really] into My Little Pony, they will type into a search engine something about horses, ponies, anything to do with riding. And very quickly things to do with pornography will come up. And unfortunately, that means that they watched things which are pretty scary… modern day porn is pretty aggressive and misogynistic and does not talk about consent and respect or any of those things. And then they think, ‘Oh, well, this is what you have to do’ and may attempt to do that on somebody else, which can get them into a lot of trouble.”

Dr. Wenn Lawson, autistic author, professor, and advocate (Interview, August 2023)

Perpetrators of sexual victimization are often related to or trusted by autistic individuals, making it especially difficult for the victim to recognize abuse or manipulation (Pearson et al., 2022). Up to 50% of affected children are abused by someone the family trusts and instances have been recorded within sports teams, religious institutions, hospitals, and other places and organizations generally trusted by parents and caregivers (Indiana Center for Prevention, 2022; Blakemore et al., 2017; Daniels-White et al., 2023). There is a glaring need for autism-specific education around consent, self-awareness and relationship skills. To best protect autistic children, such education must take place at every level, from individuals and families to clinicians and hospitals. 

“The sex education [programs] … might tell you how to not get pregnant… but that is not teaching you consent, respect, mutuality. It’s not teaching you how precious and beautiful a relationship could be. And it’s certainly not teaching in the way that autistic young people learn.”

Dr. Wenn Lawson, autistic author, professor, and advocate (Interview, August 2023)

Given the rate of sexual victimization, lack of education, and vulnerability of many autistic children and adolescents, caregivers and practitioners strongly assert the need for autism-specific sex education curricula and safety guidelines ( Barnett & Maticka-Tyndale, 2015; Lehan-Mackin et al., 2016). This is especially important for autistic individuals with profound disabilities and their families. The discussion of sexual victimization in autism is still in its infancy and there is much to be done to safeguard this population. Members of the autism community must continue to build acceptance and understanding around autistic sexuality and call more attention to the social and educational constructs that make this population vulnerable to abuse. As investigations into experiences of sexual victimization in autism continue, we will be able to create specific education and support programs for individuals, families, schools and practitioners. 

“A rewrite on how we work with traumatized young people, especially autistic young people is really important… One in thirty-eight kids will be somewhere on the spectrum. There are many more of us now. And yet the world’s education systems and traditional ways of relating in a society haven’t changed. They’re not keeping up with what the young people actually need. So that’s pretty scary.”

Dr. Wenn Lawson, autistic author, professor, and advocate (Interview, August 2023) 

Communication, assessments, and care

The presence and severity of autism traits, such as emotion regulation, cognitive flexibility, and communication difficulties, are significant predictors of sexual victimization and violence (Forrest et al., 2020; Junttila et al., 2023; Liu et al., 2021; Roberts et al., 2015; Libster et al., 2022). Non-verbal individuals and those with intellectual or profound disabilities are especially vulnerable as they may not be able to deny consent or report their abuse to a trusted person (Harrell, 2016; Tomsa et al., 2021). Many autistic individuals, especially girls, are highly socially motivated but lack social understanding and/or experience communication differences (Sedgewick et al., 2016). Autistic children and youth often comply with unreasonable requests from others due to a fear of confrontation, a lack of understanding of social boundaries, or an inability to recognize victimization (Haruvi-Lamdan et al., 2020; Pearson et al., 2022). These characteristics cause sexual offenders to view autistic and disabled children as vulnerable and purposefully target them (Edelson, 2010; Libster et al., 2022). 

“As kids we’re taught to do as we’re told. We’re taught that the adults in the room are the people who know best… and therefore when we’re possibly asked to do something we’re not comfortable with, how do we know? It’s really hard. And I know that this certainly happened to me as a child. I’ve written about this… I did not know what was okay, and what was not at a very young age. And I’m sure that’s true for all kids. But I think it’s particularly true in autism.” 

Dr. Wenn Lawson, autistic author, professor, and advocate (Interview, August 2023)

It is important to note that mental health and trauma-related conditions like anxiety, PTSD, and suicidality in autistic individuals often present differently to clinical guidelines for the general population (Ng-Cordell et al., 2022; Kildahl et al., 2019). In a recent investigation into clinicians’ experiences participants noted that they must specifically look for PTSD in autistic patients and that multidimensional individualized assessment strategies are often required (Kildahl et al., 2020). Presentation of anxiety, PTSD, and other trauma-related symptoms has not been explicitly described for the autistic population (Kidahl et al., 2019; Taylor & Gotham, 2016). Consequently, classic behavioral evaluations generally exclude contextual factors like trauma, socioeconomic status or family relationships. Due to this lack of clear symptomatology and context, trauma-related behaviors in autistic children and adults often go undetected, and in many cases are misattributed to autism traits (Edelson, 2010; Kildahl et al., 2019; Ng-Cordell et al., 2022; Gibbs et al., 2021). Contemporary researchers assert the need for further investigation into the presentation of trauma in autism and vigorous information dissemination across the autism community. Only then can we create effective trauma assessments, treatments, and sexual safety considerations specific to autism (Dike et al., 2022; Edelson, 2010; Pearson et al., 2022; Cazalis et al., 2022). 

“A neurodivergent person is constantly in a neurotypical world and trying to get by in ways that are not comfortable or natural for them. Trauma is a subjective, intense experience of perceived threat, distress, or lack of safety, and an autistic person’s experience of this neurotypical world might be full of perceived threat, distress, or lack of safety, making the autistic person more vulnerable to trauma. There is a huge need for mental health treatment accessibility for autistic individuals.”

Amanda Tami, LPC, BCBA (Interview, August 2023)

What can we do?

Education and advocacy

The creation of autism-specific sexual education programs is paramount to protecting against victimization. A 2023 systematic review found ten publications that describe good practices for psychosexual education in autism. However, no interventions successfully increased psychosexual knowledge and promoted appropriate sexual behaviors (Ragaglia et al.). Extant literature highlights that sexual education must be tailored to each individual’s developmental and cognitive level (Ballan & Freyer, 2017; Hooley et al., 2020; Hartmann et al., 2019). For example, individuals with profound disabilities may need specific education about how to meet their own sexual needs as well as biological and safety information (A. Tami, interview, August 2023). Contemporary studies underscore that sexual education for autism must move beyond knowledge-based approaches to include skill-building, safety plans, educator and parent support, and ongoing conversations based on the experiences of autistic individuals (Davies et al., 2021). 

“It’s not enough to teach stranger danger… We need a full, comprehensive sex education, not just by schools and by parents and society, but by everyone within our lives to help us understand that fuller picture… [and some] may think that giving you that kind of education is going to make you more vulnerable. That’s a mistake, a big mistake… Being able to talk about something and share it with another person is vital. And these are not things that we’re taught.”

Dr. Wenn Lawson, autistic author, professor, and advocate (Interview, August 2023)

In alignment with best clinical practices, autistic adults assert the need for sexual information to be presented in a straightforward, factual manner, accompanied by visual support and social skills training (Solomon et al., 2019). Content presented can include biological information, situational preparedness (in both physical and digital spaces), self-advocacy, social boundary literacy and information on sexual misconduct and the laws of the land (Pearson et al., 2022; Henault et al., 2014; W. Lawson, interview, August 2023).Topics of sex education and safety may feel uncomfortable or contrary to personal beliefs of some parents and caregivers. In many cases caregivers do not have the proper materials or support to provide such education (Lehan Mackin et al., 2016; Kenny et al., 2020). It is therefore imperative that autism-specific sex education programs are collaborative efforts between autistic individuals, caregivers, families, teachers, and practitioners. Some school-based education programs include parent/caregiver training, and parent-mediated sexual education programs for autistic youth have seen promising preliminary results (Shakuri & Alzahrani, 2023; Pugliese et al., 2020). As awareness around this topic continues to grow it is important to listen and adapt to the experiences of autistic children and youth. Comprehensive curricula and safety protocols will only be effective if they are based on the lived experiences of survivors (Solomon et al., 2019).

“I think that regardless of age, I mean probably especially young kids and probably especially for profoundly impacted individuals at any age – what an autistic person says is not taken seriously enough.” 

Amanda Tami, LPC, BCBA (Interview, August 2023)

Autism-specific trauma assessments and treatments

Trauma presentations in autism are still being described as this field of research is relatively young. In many cases trauma presents similarly to core autism traits like rumination, emotional regulation, avoidance, repetitive play or speech, and social withdrawal (Hill et al., 2004; Mazefsky & White, 2014; Seligowski et al., 2015; Hetzel‐Riggin & Meads, 2016; Kroncke et al., 2016). Autism characteristics like sensory over-stimulation determine which experiences are particularly traumatic and the impact and intensity of trauma-related symptoms (Haruvi-Lamdan et al., 2018). Individuals who meet criteria for both autism and PTSD have documented a regression in language and social skills, distractibility, sleep challenges, and increased aggression and agitation (Mehtar & Mukaddes, 2011). 

“In my clinical experience, the symptoms [of trauma in autism] are much more somatic… It’s all happening in their body instead of having thoughts about it, or even being able to identify feelings that go with it…  Somatic flashbacks are really common because of how their nervous system regulates, it’s very easy to get into this overwhelm state… So when someone has experienced something traumatic… [there is often an] increase in dysregulation and meltdowns… [and maybe] new triggers or behaviors that weren’t present before.”

Amanda Tami, LPC, BCBA (Interview, August 2023)

Researchers and clinicians assert the pressing need for autism-specific behavioral and psychopathological assessments that account for trauma history and other contextual factors (Hoover, 2015; Ng-Cordell et al., 2022; Taylor & Gotham, 2016; Fuld, 2018). Self-reports and other documentation of autistic lived experiences are vital in creating effective evaluations and diagnostic criteria. This is especially true of autistic children and youth whose self-reports capture lived experiences in ways parent-reports cannot (Adams et al., 2014; Hoover, 2015). In 2019, Hoover and Romero published an interactive web-based trauma self-report measure for autistic children. User satisfaction was high and the measure was sensitive to reports of bullying and teasing. However trauma derived from sexual abuse was not explicitly assessed. As self-reports and assessments evolve to consider autistic lived experiences and encompass critical risk factors, treatment goals and strategies beyond standard behavioral approaches will follow (Michna et al., 2022; Fuld, 2018).

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) is the most commonly investigated evidence-based trauma treatment strategy (Salloum et al., 2015; Diehle et al., 2015; Scheeringa et al., 2011). Autism-specific TF-CBT incorporates treatment goals related with core autism traits as well as trauma-associated targeting (Peterson et al., 2019). Recently published FT-CBT frameworks for autism include components of psychoeducation, coping skills, relaxation, affect regulation, cognitive coping and processing, trauma narrative, in-vivo exposure, and safety plans for the future (Romney & Garcia, 2021; Stack & Lucyshyn, 2018). Another intervention being used for trauma-related conditions in autism is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) (Lobregt-van Buuren, 2018; Fisher et al., 2023). Practitioners and researchers highlight the need for autism-specific EMDR strategies built on an understanding of autism as well as individuals’ strengths, needs and preferences (Fisher et al., 2022;  Diest et al., 2023; Lobregt-van Buuren et al., 2019). 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is another promising treatment for trauma in autism. Preliminary investigation into the usefulness of ACT in autism show decreases in stress, anxiety, and mental health problems, and an increase in overall quality of life (Pahnke et al., 2014; Juvin et al., 2021; Byrne & O’Mahony, 2020). ACT was found to effectively treat PTSD in neurotypical youth, but autism-specific trauma-informed ACT treatments have yet to be investigated (Woidneck et al. 2014). Although preliminary results from autism trauma treatment strategies are promising, a critical need remains for autism-specific trauma intervention adaptations. Future research aims should include developing measurement instruments for trauma and validating modified trauma interventions specific to autism (Peterson et al., 2019). Intervention decisions should be made on an individual basis and in collaboration with families and practitioners.

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy you start from where you are and you accept who you are, and then work towards the goals that you decide upon the way you want to go. Just changing what we think and, as in CBT, that impacts on behavior… But [CBT]’s got a judgment aspect to it. And if you’re a survivor of trauma and you’re at risk of being re-traumatized by various triggers, the last thing you really need are more pointers of what you’re not doing right.”

Dr. Wenn Lawson, autistic author, professor, and advocate (Interview, August 2023)

A safer future

In order to effectively protect not only autistic children, but all young and disabled people from sexual victimization, our society must reassess how we view and discuss sexuality. By removing the taboo surrounding sex, the shame and guilt associated with it will dissipate. This would allow a more open and honest dialogue about sexual education and safety on an individual and societal level. Evidence of sexual victimization in autism is discomforting and the autism community must adapt practices, materials, and prejudices accordingly. The future of autism-specific trauma treatment and education depends on collaboration and information sharing. It is critical that clinicians, families and schools receive updated information and educational support as research and investigation continue. Given the prevalence of sexual victimization, trauma, and suicidality in autism, sexual education should be considered as fundamental in every level of assessment and treatment. Successful safety plans would require all parties to have an understanding of the risks and prevention guidelines for sexual victimization. 

“In our role [as clinicians] today, with access to the internet and pornography… I’ve had several patients who watch violent things online… And that’s the kind of thing that they like. And so…it’s not my place to say, ‘you can’t watch these things’, but [I need] to educate them to know that that’s not real life. And that cannot be real life and you cannot act out what you’re seeing by yourself or with a partner. This is not real life. It’s not safe.”

Amanda Tami, LPC, BCBA (Interview, August 2023)

Since ARI’s founding over sixty years ago, perceptions and understandings of autism have continued to evolve. Where in the past autism was strictly a deficit, today it is seen more as a difference. Acknowledging and accepting autistic sexuality is a necessary step toward effective care and comprehensive treatments. Measurement tools and interventions must account for sexuality, vulnerability, and other contextual factors to properly assess trauma and safety for this population. Sexual victimization and its implications in autism are increasingly being discussed in both research and practice. Family supports, online courses, and books are available and some practices, like ABA, hold annual conferences to discuss these pressing issues. 

“I am quite excited that finally, rather than autism being seen as deficits, a disorder, everything that’s “wrong”… finally, people are beginning to see, ‘Oh, maybe it’s because they learn differently.’ And if we adjust how we teach, it’s not so much of a disorder, because it’s going to be personalized for them, and they’re going to be okay. I’m seeing people form relationships, I’m seeing people get jobs, which has been huge because unemployment is a much bigger problem in autism than in any other group of people. So yes, I have great hope that things are changing, and will continue to do so.

Dr. Wenn Lawson, autistic author, professor, and advocate (Interview, August 2023)


RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) – The largest anti-sexual violence organization in the U.S. They operate the National Sexual Assault Hotline and implement programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure perpetrators are brought to justice. 

National Sexual Assault Hotline (24/7): 800 – 656 – 4673

Sex Ed for Self-Advocates – A sexuality and sex education resource written specifically for autistic people ages 15 and older.

Raising Children – Resources for recognizing and responding to sexual abuse in autistic children and youth, keeping autistic children and teenagers safe, and sexual behaviors in autistic children and teens. 

Porn Is Not the Norm – “Supporting autistic young people and their communities to safely navigate pornography’s influence.”

Curtin University Free Online Course – A free online course that teaches self-advocacy and self-care using a strengths-based approach.

The Autism Spectrum, Sexuality and the Law – “What every parent and professional needs to know.” Book by Isabelle Henault, Nick Dubin, and Dr Anthony Attwood, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

California Sibling Leadership Network – “A community for adult siblings of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in California.”

Sexual Violence and the Disability Community Discussion Guide – Conversations around sexual violence that use justice frameworks to center the intersection of gender and disability violence.

SexABA Annual Conference – Annual conference on sexual behavior, sexuality, and gender through a lens of neurodiversity affirmation, harm reduction, and human rights.

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Adams, R., Taylor, J., Duncan, A., & Bishop, S. (2016). Peer Victimization and Educational Outcomes in Mainstreamed Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46(11), 3557–3566.

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Brotto, L. A., & Yule, M. (2017). Asexuality: Sexual Orientation, Paraphilia, Sexual Dysfunction, or None of the Above? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(3), 619–627.

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Brown-Lavoie, S. M., Viecili, M. A., & Weiss, J. A. (2014). Sexual Knowledge and Victimization in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(9), 2185–2196.

Byrne, G., & O’Mahony, T. (2020). Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for adults with intellectual disabilities and/or autism spectrum conditions (ASC): A systematic review”. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 18, 247–255.

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Wellbeing Wins: Integrating Positive Psychology into the Autism Community

September 25th, 2024|Adults on the Spectrum, Anxiety, Anxiety, Back to School, depression, Executive Function, Health, Neurological, Self Care, Sleep Issues, Social Skills, Webinar|

Free webinar at 1 p.m. Eastern time (US), Wednesday, September 25, 2024 About the speaker: Patricia Wright, PhD, MPH, is Executive Director of Proof Positive: Autism Wellbeing Alliance.