Friends Are Important Too


Current research indicates that social functioning is the only significant influence on level of romantic functioning in adolescents and adults with ASD, in itself dependent on learning from peers. This means that without a good level of social functioning (or peers to learn from), children with ASD may be left without even the foundation required for more complex romantic relationships.

Sexuality and Relationship Education (SRE) should never be taught in isolation. The intimacy of sexual relationships is not separate to the intimacy of social relationships. Good SRE will focus on teaching children about all the different kinds of relationships that can exist, starting initally with family and friendship. It will also be linked to a systemic and holistic social skills program that supports children in developing and maintaining social relationships.

As always, teaching should be positive in focus, respectful and empathic to inherent difficulties and individualised to the child. However, one important note on social skills programs: social skills will not develop or generalize unless the child is supported in developing these skills in the real world, through real world social situations. Worksheets in an isolated classroom do not a social skills program make.


Stokes, M., Newton, N. and Kaur, A. (2007) Stalking, and social and romantic functioning among adolescents and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 1969-1986.

Visuals to Support Sex Education for Children with Autism

2013-03-28 13.14.22-2Currently, one of the biggest obstacles to doing sexuality and relationship education with children with ASD is the terrible lack of resources. As most people on the spectrum are visual learners, they need visuals (or pictures) to help them learn best. This is all well and good for other areas of a child’s curriculum but finding suitable pictures to represent for example healthy bodies or relationships is difficult at best as they need to be visually simple, realistic yet age appropriate. It is of course possible to trawl through Google to find appropriate pictures but this can take time and usually involves NSFW (not safe for work) material. I also would not advise doing these searches with the child present!

I am currently working on a series of picture books to support pre-teens and young adults in the area of sexuality and relationship education, which are due to be published this year through Jessica Kingsley. However, in the meantime, here are a list of places where you might find something useful. Remember that you should be using the type of visuals that the child is already using, which might be photographs, colour illustrations or black and white line drawings.  It makes no sense to make sex education even more conceptually difficult for a child by suddenly using a style of visual that they are unused to or is too developmentally complex for them.

FYI links to all of these resources can also be found on my website


1.  Visualaidsforlearning is an excellent and free online collection of pictures and social stories. Highly recommended for professionals and parents. Among other useful collections, it contains an ‘Adolescence’ pack which includes topics such as wet dreams, sexual feelings and menstruation.

2.  From Image in Action, Going Further is a free Sex and Relationships Education course for learners aged 16+ with a moderate learning disability or ASD attending colleges of further education. The course includes 12 sessions, with resources provided for each session. It also very helpfully includes some good, full page, illustrations of people clothed, in underwear and naked which could be used for other programmes.

3.   Managing Menstruation is a thorough information resource developed for females with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It is a bit dated but does include some black and white line drawing and contains great examples of how to use visuals.

4.   Bild (the British Institute of Intellectual Disabilities) has produced a free App called All About People to support adults with learning difficulties in the area of sexual and social relationships. The App consists of a comprensive list of clear, colour illustrations. This is a fantastic resource, although it is produced specifically for adults and therefore the illustrations obviously contain adults only. It could  be used to support older teenagers with ASD, however it is sexually explicit and therefore great care would need to be taken before use. To find it, search the iPhone or Android App store for ‘bild all about people.’

5.   The Playbook for Kids about Sex  is controversial in parts given the age of the children it is geared towards. However, full of visuals, it is a positive and useful resource. Made for children to fill in themselves, it is easy to pick and choose which parts you feel are appropriate for a particular child.

RESOURCES TO BUY  2013-03-28 13.14.40

1.   Sexuality and Relationship Education for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders. My own book. This includes lots of simple black and white illustrations (like the one to the right) both within social stories and seperate individually in the Appendix. See here for a sample chapter which includes visuals.

2012-10-04 10.01.562.  Boardmaker’s Communication about Sexuality package is a great resource if you are already using Boardmaker with a child, although I have to say that some of the visuals are quite advanced and abstract. Although you can buy the CD ‘stand alone’ and it is inexpensive, you need Boardmaker Studio or Boardmaker for Windows or Mac version 5 or higher to run it on your computer. It was developed specifically to prevent abuse and contains over 400 Picture Communication Symbols and 48 communication boards focusing specifically on the expression of sexuality. However, like all resources this may not be suitable for all children.

3.   From American Girl, The Care & Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls is beautifully illustrated in colour. It includes information (and visuals) on topics such as hair care, braces, acne, bras, using tampons, nutrition, periods, exercise, feelings and body image. Similarly beautifully illustrated, The Feelings Book:The Care and Keeping of Your Emotions is also recommended.

4.   Secret Girls’ Business provide a range of colour illustrated books developed specifically for children with special needs to read themselves in the areas of puberty and relationships. Despite the name of the company, seperate books are provided for girls and boys. These books are highly visual and therefore suitable for children on the spectrum. See here and here for sample pages.

5.   Specifically developed for adults with disabilities and produced by David Hingsburger and Diverse City PressFinger Tips and Hand Made Love are video guides to be used for men and women who are having issues with masturbation. Only suitable for young adults or older teenagers, they include sexually explicit content that will need to be viewed and approved before showing. The accompanying books also include step by step photographic guides to masturbation. Other multimedia book and DVD guides are also available, including Under Cover Dick (for males) which teaches men with developmental disabilities to use condoms.

6.   Taking Care of Myself: A Healthy Hygiene, Puberty and Personal Curriculum for Young People with Autism by Mary Wrobel. A very practical book, consisting mostly of simplified visual social stories and some activities mostly based on visual scheduling, matching and sorting. However, the quality of the illustrations contained isn’t great.

7.  Beyond Words (a registered charity) produce a series of picture books called Books Beyond Words, which are a truly brilliant resource. Each book tells a story in pictures (i.e. there are no words at all) to help people with learning and communication difficulties explore and understand their own experiences, e.g. grief and abuse. Relevant to sex education include: Falling In Love, Jenny Speaks Out, Keeping Healthy Down Below, Looking After My Balls, Looking After My Breasts and Loving Each Other Safely.

8.   The author Robbie Harris has produced three excellent books in the area of sex education for typically developing children of different ages. They include lovely colour illustrations of a variety of different body shapes, including people in wheelchairs.

I hope you find something useful for you in this list, please do let me know if I have left out any good resources!