Sexuality Education for Individuals with Autism and Developmental Disabilities

Body Exploration, Boundaries and Touching

In this video, Dr. Achey discusses the importance of boundaries and touching as they relate to children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities. As a reminder, each of these training sessions are brief and should not be considered a comprehensive source on the specific topics covered. Each family is encouraged to determine what information and activities are appropriate for their child.

Young children will demonstrate a growing awareness of their bodies and bodily functions. They will be talkative and curious about everything, including their own bodies and the bodies of others. As children become more body aware, they may want to snuggle in bed with their parents, join them in the bathroom, watch them getting dressed, or any number of things involving day to day activities. Children will mimic the behaviors they see. You may see your child pretending to shave their face or legs, applying deodorant or wearing their parents shoes or a bra. These are typical behaviors of a child.

“Sex play” is also a typical behavior. The name “sex play” can be misinterpreted, it can include playing “doctor,” exploring sexuality through mimicking adult behavior and through playing with dolls. It is common to see children peeking under each other’s clothing, undressing their dolls, and checking out the “bottoms” of pets and stuffed animals. Again, this is completely normal. It is another way for children to find out about their own bodies and the bodies of others. Overreacting to this normal behavior can send a child negative messages about sexuality.

However, just because these behaviors are normal does not mean you have to allow them. Children learn about privacy and modesty based on the standards established by their families. Parents and their child’s teacher will need to determine what behaviors are appropriate for what setting and respond accordingly to the child so there is a consistent message. Some examples of areas where boundaries may need to be set:

  • Touching others
  • Being touched by others
  • Touching themselves