Learning to understand and correct inappropriate behavior early in the life of a child with autism will increase their confidence and ability in finding and sustaining an intimate relationship later on. To be effective in correcting what is generally received as inappropriate behavior (out of place, crossing personal boundaries, causing shock, alarm, or social awkwardness), it is helpful for a parent or caregiver to first understand the motivation behind a child’s behavior.
Because of difficulties in how autistic children process and understand emotions and language, the way children on the autism spectrum express their feelings and curiosity often gets misinterpreted. An example of this is taken from The National Autistic Society website. A child with autism may brush against a certain woman’s breasts. The behavior is socially inappropriate, but more needs to be gleaned from the instance than just the fact that the child inappropriately touched a woman’s ‘private parts’. Finding out the reasons that prompted the child to do this will lead to teaching social skills by using a relevant scenario that will directly inform the child.
Since every child is different, the reasons behind certain inappropriate behaviors may also be different. With the example above, there are several possible reasons for the behavior. The child may have experienced good feelings from the action and so repeated the action, not realizing how this action violates another person. The child may have wanted to gauge the woman’s mood by seeing how she reacts, since reading nonverbal language is difficult. It is also possible that touching the woman’s breasts was done on impulse, since kids are naturally curious about such things. Punishing the behavior would result in several negative consequences for the child.
Merely punishing a behavior loses the opportunity that the behavior presents to teach social awareness. It is a prime opening to introduce a social story, even if the parent or caregiver needs to create the social story to reenact the likeness of the real life event. Addressing the behavior also develops control over impulses by staying relevant with the developmental stage of the child and the types of thoughts they will have with certain stages of growth. The behavior is an indication of what the child is thinking. Essentially, the child is communicating through their behavior. The type of behavior can guide a parent or caregiver into identifying and articulating thoughts and emotions that might be ambiguous and difficult for a child with autism to verbally communicate themselves.
Every action is insight into the mind of the child with autism and an opportunity to bring understanding. There are resources available that address sexuality and autism, such as Our Whole Lives and Sexpressions, to stay in tune with the developmental stages of a child and have a curriculum in place to be an edifying influence during these stages.