Monday, 20 June 2016

Autism, Sexuality, Gender ID, Young Women

I'm seeing a lot of materials written for autistic older secondary school pupils and University students.  Lots about how to organise diaries and get homework in on time.  Lots on basic sensory stuff now (which is good).

And, in some of the brand new shiny materials being promoted at the autism shows, a single mention of sex and intimate relationships.
Just one.  One sentence on it.  And, almost invariably, that sentence assumes that all females are 'straight', and of standard gender identity.

Not so.

The latest research we have  on autistic females shows that we're struggling to find even 50% who confidently tick 'heterosexual' and 'female' on boxes.  They're ticking


and other identities and sexualities.  Good research, from good researchers.  Online polls in autism communities.  Everywhere, a figure of between 30% and 50% is emerging (depending on the questions asked).

The advice to 'See a GP about contraception so you do not become pregnant' is not always helpful.

For a start, many of us cannot access healthcare.  You might as well order us to fly to the moon by flapping our arms, and get condoms there.  We often cannot communicate our needs fully.  We possibly don't know what options there are, so cannot prepare a conversation ahead of time to explore it.  We can't access the bizarre, "Turn up for an appointment at 10 and get seen by 12.15" stuff.  Sitting under fluorescent lighting, in the medical stench, trying to prepare an unknown conversation for a random number of hours?  We can't do that.  Our brains literally overheat from the load of that, and we leave.  So, unsafe, uneducated, possibly predatory sex awaits.

And, when we do access the GP, our learned language is, "I am asking about contraception so I don't get pregnant"?

OK, that's one possibility.  But, two lesbians would find it really hard to get pregnant together.  Trust me on this one.   So now we've issued a lesbian with a box of male condoms and The Pill, because she didn't know how to explain.  Is this an improvement in her University life?

We need to do better than this.  The future love, security, safety and wellbeing of autistic young women is so important.  And, to be clear, so is the safety of autistic young men.  They too often report a different sexuality or gender, and they too get almost nothing helpful-to-autism said about any of this through schools and colleges. Some would say it's not the job of schools and colleges.  In that case, why is it in the materials at all?

We know that some 70% of autistic women report that they have been sexually assaulted.  A huge number report rape, domestic violence. It's little wonder.  They are left with no way to discuss their identity. To talk in autism-appropriate ways about relationships and boundaries, about gender identity.   We need more than giving us one impossible instruction, in our schools and colleges.  We need more than one sentence as an afterthought.  We need directing to good materials, to people who can explain and understand.  People who won't judge us even more for 'coming out'.   It's part of why I worry a lot about the more traditional faith groups running autism care homes and colleges.  How are those faith groups working through their own, "All LGBT stuff is wrong" beliefs, when they could have 50% of their young autistic people feeling so very low and scared as a result of that?  Genuine, honest question.  We're often not even close to looking at the answers, because no-one has realised the statistics, I suspect.

Please, good authors and educators, talk with those of us who are part of the LGBT community and are autistic... and are professionals with plenty of experience of education. Don't guess at this stuff.  It's too important to mess up.

Many thanks.