Sex and Relationship Education Programme for Young People with Asperger Syndrome

Background

Fliss Ward, a tutor from South Nottingham College who was working with students with Asperger Syndrome, identified that the sex and relationship education (SRE) that some of the students had received at school had not been designed to specifically meet the needs of young people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and the young people appeared to have gaps in their knowledge. Fliss identified that these students would benefit from an SRE programme tailored to meet their needs.  Fiona Speirs provides consultancy and training on ASD and specialises in providing and delivering SRE resources.  Fiona was subsequently commissioned by the college to design and deliver this programme. This piece of work was highly commended in the Pamela Sheridan award 2009.

The Programme

The college recognised that young people would be particularly vulnerable if they had limited awareness of sexual matters. The programme aimed to address this by delivering information in a way that considered the learning style of individuals and took into account any potential barriers that they might have to learning.  This included anticipating potential sensitivities for individuals within the group and ensuring follow up support would be available to them.  Relationships were made with key staff members to ensure that they were supported and empowered to take forward the work in the future.

The course was designed to address the gaps that the young people had in their previous SRE and to respond to young people's current needs at an important point of transition in their lives.  Some of the content was similar to that of mainstream SRE.  However, extra emphasis was given to topics that were particularly relevant to the groups needs and mindful of concepts that they found more difficult to understand.  This included work around "private and personal" behaviour, harassment and work around rights and responsibilities.  In addition to furthering their understanding of all of the course topics, learners developed strategies regarding sexual safety and who they can talk to in the college with regards to sexual matters. 

The course was delivered to a small group of young people and there were opportunities for all participants to have one-to-one support if this was needed.  The course was designed to enable participants to have opportunities for discussion, to improve their self-confidence and to be fun. 
(See below for week by week example SRE programme)

Quote from course leader, Fiona Speirs

"When working with young people for whom a specific sexual behaviour has been highlighted as being of concern, I have found it useful to start off by asking the young person to look through a series of photos with me.  The photos show a variety of people in various social situations…I ask the young person to "tell me about the photo".  This gives an invaluable insight into how the young person is processing social information and the answers are often very revealing in terms of social naivety and misinterpretation.  This gives me a good 'starting point' for developing further work."

Week One: Relationships

  • Introduction to Relationships  - What are they?
  • Types of Relationship - Professional, Family, Friends, Acquaintances, Intimate

Weeks Two and Three: Growing, changing and sexual orientation

  • Growing & Changing  - How our bodies and feelings change as we get older.
  • Sexual Orientation - What do we mean?   Stereotypes & myths.  Promoting acceptance

Week Four: Girlfriends/boyfriends

  • Girlfriends & Boyfriends  - What do we mean?  What are the 'rules'?
  • Qualities of a Girlfriend/Boyfriend

Weeks Five and Six: Heterosexual relationships

  • Private Body Parts
  • Cuddling, Kissing, Hand Holding, Petting
  • Penetrative Sex  - Vaginal, Oral, Anal
  • Use of Sex Aids as an option
  • What is 'Love'?   What is the difference between 'having sex' & 'making love'?
  • Using Contraception

Week Seven: Same sex/bi-sexual/transsexual relationships

  • Cuddling, Kissing, Hand Holding, Petting
  • Other Male/Male Sexual Practices
  • Other Female/Female Sexual Practices
  • Use of Sex Aids as an option/Using Contraception    (recap on previous week's information)
  • Bi-sexuality & Transgender issues


Weeks Eight and Nine: The law and social rules

  • What is 'pornography'?
  • Use of sexual slang.  What do the words mean?  When are certain words unacceptable?
  • The Law & Sexual Behaviour, Equality, Harassment, Stalking

Weeks Ten and Eleven: Getting to know someone, rejection, masturbation, staying safe

  • Dual Consent Issues
  • Coping With Rejection
  • Solo Expression -  Masturbation/'Wet Dreams' & Use of Sex Aids as an option
  • Sexual Safety - How to say 'No' to all or certain aspects of sexual contact
  • Internet & Mobile phone safety

Week Twelve: Plenary

  • Recap and quiz
  • Comments; Questions;  Issues arising;  Identifying areas where more work is needed


Evaluation

An understanding of Asperger Syndrome was crucial to the success of this project.  Workers were able to appreciate the specific needs of participants and the ways in which they communicated.  Questions from participants were often direct and explicit and workers were able to respond to these appropriately and without embarrassment.  Teaching assistant support was available throughout the programme which enabled participants to receive the level of individual support that they required.  Participants were also offered individual support from the course lead if a need was identified. 

The course lead ensured that teaching methods were varied and appropriate.  Visual aids were used to support verbal delivery and much of the course was interactive and fun.  Throughout the course participants became visibly more relaxed and quieter group members were able to contribute.

The evaluation process was undertaken with both learners and key staff.  Learners completed worksheets and evaluation forms at the end of the programme.  The course lead met with key staff on a weekly basis to discuss matters that had arisen during the sessions.  This included identifying if any learners needed extra support and one-to-one time.  Parents and carers were informed about the course before it started and were given guidance regarding the subject matter to be discussed and resources that would be used.   Parents and carers were fully supportive of the programme and they were also involved in the evaluation. 

For more information contact

College Tutor:  felicity.ward@snc.ac.uk

Fiona Speirs: fiona@fionaspeirs.co.uk