Introducing the topic of sexuality to a gym filled with high school teens and young adults might seem like a recipe for disaster.
But on November 9th, Y.A.L.E. School students quickly stifled their giggles and listened attentively as Dr. Isabelle Hénault, an internationally respected educator, researcher and clinician specializing in Asperger’s and sexuality spoke to them. She is the author of Asperger’s Syndrome and Sexuality: From Adolescence Through Adulthood.
Dr. Hénault gave students materials filled with information and activities. Students assessed their current knowledge, and engaged in discussion on topics like love and friendship, physiology, and perspective taking. And they asked a lot of questions: “How do I get a girlfriend?” and, “What would be the most peaceful way to end a relationship?”
“Teenagers are eager for information,” notes Dr. Hénault. “If we don’t provide them with developmentally appropriate and timely answers to their questions to satisfy their curiosity, they will find the information elsewhere.” She points out that peers and the Internet are their primary sources when parents and schools relinquish their responsibilities. “Images they can access on websites are not examples of healthy sexuality,” warns Dr. Hénault. She also feels that students with Asperger’s are particularly at risk on social networking sites. Dr. Hénault talked to students about the lure of the Internet and the social, emotional and sometimes legal consequences of their online explorations.
“I work with many teenagers just like you who want to find a special person and I will tell you that to do that, you first need to know what makes you special,” shared Dr. Hénault. Students spent a surprisingly quiet time reflecting on their strengths and then volunteered to share their self-discovery.
They also had the opportunity to ponder the kind of person they would like to meet. Some had evidently already given that a great deal of thought. Said one girl: “I want somebody who respects me for who I am and is not looking for a walking, talking sandwich maker!”
Talking to Kids About Sexuality: Tips for Parents
In addition to the program for students, Y.A.L.E. School invited parents, educators, counselors and the community to a free program featuring Dr. Hénault entitled Approaching Intimacy: The Developmental Challenges of Sexuality and Asperger’s.
She offered these tips to help parents talk effectively with their teens:
- Don’t use excessive and wordy explanations. Keep it simple.
- Talk to your child about sexuality in a positive way, free of prejudice.
- Use accurate terms and proper vocabulary, not childish substitutions.
- Be concrete in your explanations.
- Be sure your child develops a clear understanding of the concepts of consent, stalking, abuse and privacy.
“For too long, sex education has been a hot potato passed from parents to the school and from school to the parents,” said Dr. Hénault. “Now we know it is a shared responsibility, and we all must participate in the process.”