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Autism. 2009 Nov;13(6):551-66. doi: 10.1177/1362361309338183.

Establishing a sexual identity. Case studies of learners with autism and learning difficulties.

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Institute of Education, University of Reading, Earley, Reading, Berkshire, UK.


The physical and emotional changes that occur in adolescence are part of the process of sexual maturity. These changes occur irrespective of ability and are often aligned with psychological and social factors. When the nature of a disability has an inherent limitation in social awareness, as is the case for individuals with autism, the achievement of personal sexual identity can become much more complex. Challenges in supporting individuals in this respect can be caused by the sensitive aspects of inappropriate behaviour, the abstract nature of teaching the topic, and the general reluctance on the part of parents and staff to discuss sexuality in individuals with disabilities. This article explores how a residential school addressed this gap. It provides details of how this need was met for seven students and the process undertaken to involve staff, parents and other stakeholders to establish ongoing support.

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