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Adolescents with autism benefit from training program

Adolescents with autism benefit from a special training about sexuality, relationships, and social media. This is the finding of research carried out by psychologist Dr. Kirsten Visser.

Hormonal changes
Coming into puberty is a difficult period even for adolescents who do not have autism. The physical and hormonal changes, the first crushes, and the associated insecurity cause them to go through an emotional rollercoaster. For adolescents with autism this phase of life is often twice as confusing.

Tackling Teenage - Proefschrift Kirsten Visser"Adolescents with autism usually do not have the same kinds of friendships and relationships with peers that other adolescents have. Ordinary adolescents are on the same wavelength. They can recognize types of behavior and learn from one another. They also learn from each other's mistakes", explains researcher Kirsten Visser. "Adolescents with autism often do not have such networks or social thinking skills and therefore at times come across as being clumsy."

Girls with autism who very easily become entangled in the tentacles of groomers (loverboys). Boys with autism who fall in love and, in their enthusiasm, annoyingly stalk a girl without realizing that this is inappropriate behavior. Visser knows that these are examples from practice that occur regularly and worry parents. The 'Ik Puber' training program, which is meant for adolescents and parents, deals with all matters that affect adolescents. 

Exploring boundaries
The matters that are dealt with in the training program, which is currently on an individual basis, include the physical changes, being in love, having sex with others, having sex with yourself, establishing friendships, exploring  your own boundaries and those of others, social media, and where and how do you ask questions about sex.
In 2011, the book accompanying the training program was published. It was established by experts from Yulius, together with Erasmus MC Sophia Children's Hospital's department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry/Psychology.

Visser measured the effect of the program. A total of 95 adolescents aged 12 to 18 years and their parents completed a questionnaire before and after the training program. And again after six months. As a control, the questionnaire was also completed by 94 adolescents with autism who had not participated in the training program. "This showed that all the adolescents benefitted: they gained more psychosexual knowledge and insight into boundaries. The greatest increase in knowledge and a significant reduction in social clumsiness was shown by the 12 to 14  age group."

Further research will need to confirm whether the training program has long-term benefits, and whether part of the program could be given as a group lesson. "We also want to determine whether the training program can be adapted to young adults and people who have autism as well as intellectual disability." Dr. Kirsten Visser, who is a trainee psychologist at Yulius, a Dutch Association of Mental Health and Addiction Care (GGZ) institute, recently received her PhD at Erasmus MC for her research on the effectiveness of 'Ik Puber'.

Date published: 5 December 2017.

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