Clinical and demographic factors associated with sexual behaviour in children with autism spectrum disorders

Lurike Fourie, Carla Kotzé, Deborah van der Westhuizen


Introduction: The sexual behaviour and development of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) have been mostly overlooked in research and practice. This study aimed to determine the association between certain clinical and demographic factors found in a sample of children with ASDs, and their reported sexual behaviour (RSB).

Methods: The study was conducted at a school in Gauteng, South Africa, for learners with ASDs. Two questionnaires completed by caregivers/parents enquired about family stability, clinical profile and RSB (if any) in their child. RSB was analysed via three domains: self-care, socio-sexual skills and actual RSB, with additional information from school records.

Results: Of the 107 questionnaires distributed, only 31 parents responded and 24 agreed to participate. The 24 (100%) children included 10 pubertal and 14 pre-pubertal children, of which 18 (n = 18) had more stable primary caregiver statuses as well as more stable socioeconomic and family environments. Two of the 14 pre-pubertal children had abnormal self-care, whereas none of the 10 pubertal children had any abnormal self-care. Eight of the 18 children from more stable environments displayed abnormal sexual behaviours. Of the 6 children from less stable environments, two displayed more abnormal socio-sexual skills, whereas 9 of the 18 children from more stable environments displayed more abnormal sexual behaviour. In contrast with the postulated hypothesis that children from less stable socioeconomic and family environments would exhibit more abnormal sexual behaviours, this study did not find any evidence of such a relationship or association.

Conclusion: ASDs are characterised by deficits in communication and social skills. These may lead to an affected individual struggling to develop appropriate sexual behaviour. If specific risk factors that contribute to the development of abnormal sexual behaviour can be identified, one can try to modify/prevent these where some degree of prevention or alleviation may be possible.

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Submitted: 10 June 2015
Published: 06 February 2017

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South African Journal of Psychiatry    |    ISSN: 1608-9685 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2078-6786 (ONLINE)