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.