Although there are many behaviors that can be considered inappropriate, none upset people quite like those behaviors that are sexual in nature. Because of inappropriate behaviors, the deficit in social skills is even more evident and isolating for the person with autism. Children become aware at very young ages that it is inappropriate to touch other people in certain places; a child with autism does not have that built in control and if curious may reach out to touch someone else's body. This is particularly common with adolescent boys who may try to touch a woman's breast. It is important to deal with these behaviors when a child is young so that they are not a problem when he becomes an adult.
This is a difficult subject for parents of kids with autism. When they discover their child actively masturbating without any discretion, they wonder how to handle the situation. To keep a proper perspective, remember almost all children masturbate. Children with autism have no inhibitions, because they are unaware of the social taboo against masturbating in public.
If your child masturbates excessively, genital irritation can result. Be sure there is not a vaginal discharge in girls or pinworms in little children. Both can cause itchiness and irritation. An examination by your child's physician should let you know if this is a problem. Some medications used for autism, notably SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor), slow the libido and may be appropriate.
The mistake that parents often make—and it is an easy one to make—is to stop the behavior when they find their child masturbating in a public area. They will usually shout or sharply pull their child's hand away. That does stop the behavior, but it sends a message that sexuality and the human body are bad or dirty.
Your goal should not be to stop the behavior, but rather to redirect it to an appropriate time and location. Masturbating in the middle of the living room is not appropriate, and redirecting your child to his or her bedroom with a closed door will solve most public displays. Keep in mind that people with autism are dictated by the structure of their routine. If they are taught that their bedroom is the only acceptable location for self-stimulating behavior, they will adhere to that routine.
Inappropriate Touching of Others
The majority of paraprofessionals that work with students with autism are female. Women are also still in a majority as caregivers, whether it be at home, day care, or in other environments that care for children. A young boy with autism who has raging hormones in his system may not understand that touching others in a sexual manner is not acceptable. Do not be surprised if you find out that your son has tried this.
The behavior is not malicious or intended to degrade. Your child has no idea that it is unacceptable to touch another person inappropriately. Nevertheless, the behavior must be stopped. Although you may be able to dismiss it in a ten-year-old child, if it's allowed to continue, it will be much harder to dismiss the behavior in a thirty-year-old man.
Generally, the situation will resolve itself. A girl is less inclined to engage in this behavior, and when a boy crosses the line, a woman's natural reaction will be a slap or loud rebuke. The most important thing that parents and school personnel can do is teach your child that inappropriate touching of others is not allowed in any circumstance. It is much easier to modify behaviors in a child or teenager than it is to change the same behaviors in an adult.
There are books for young children that have drawings geared toward those who might not understand the language. The goal is to help your child with autism learn to control his sexual behavior in a way that will keep him safe.