The DADD Board of Directors supports the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ statement on identifying sexuality as a basic human right that everyone, regardless of cognitive or physical ability, has the right to make choices regarding sexual and gender expression and social relationships. Historically, people with intellectual disability and/or autism spectrum disorder were infantilized and assumed to have no interest in or ability for healthy sexual or gender expression. They also have limited access to a comprehensive sexuality education, tend to experience limited opportunities to establish gender and sexual identity (Niles & Harkins Monaco, 2017), social relationships and skills (Perkins & Borden, 2003), self-worth, self-determination, and emotional wellbeing (Murphy & Elias, 2006), and are at increased risks to engage in unsafe or unhealthy sexual activity as well as at increased risk for sexual abuse (Balderian, Coleman, & Stream, 2013; Harrell, 2014; Krohn, 2014).
As a basic right, each individual with intellectual disability and/or austim spectrum disorder has the right to explore and understand the complexities of gender and sexual diversity. Being supported in discovering gender and sexual identity is critical for these rights to be observed. We recommend families, schools, and support communities work together to deliver individualized education on sexuality that (a) is reflective of the individual’s values; (b) encourages informed decision-making; and (c) promotes sexual health and safety.
Baladerian, N. J., Coleman, T. F., & Stream, J. (2013). A report on the 2012 national
survey on abuse of people with disabilities. Los Angeles: Spectrum Institute.
Harrell, E. (2014). Crimes against persons with disabilities, 2009-1012 statistical tables.
Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.
Krohn, J. (2014). Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and students with special needs:
Crafting an effective response for schools. University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law and Social Change, 17, (1), 2.
Murphy, N. A., & Elias, E. R. (2006). Sexuality of adolescents with developmental
disabilities. Pediatrics, 118(1), 398-403
Niles, G., & Harkins Monaco, E. A., (2017). Gender Identity and Sexual Diversity:
Supporting Individuals with an Intellectual or Developmental Disability, manuscript submitted to DADD Online Journal.
Perkins, D. F., & Borden, L. M. (2003). Positive behaviors, problem behaviors, and
resiliency in adolescence. In R. M. Lerner, M. A. Easterbrooks, & J. Mistry (Eds.), Handbook of psychology: Vol. 6. Developmental psychology (pp. 373–394). New York: Wiley.
White House Council on Women and Girls (2014). Rape and sexual assault: A renewed
call to action. Washington, DC: Author.
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This is the Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities (DADD) blog post