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National Organisation for FASD Australia

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Earlier this year CanFASD released an issue paper on FASD and Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour. The paper highlights the needs of individuals with FASD for adequate support in developing healthy sexual behaviours and relationships. Due to individual differences in learning and cognition it can take longer for people with FASD to understand norms and boundaries around sexuality. People with FASD are highly represented as victims and perpetrators of inappropriate sexual behaviours, which can include:

  • inappropriate sexual advances
  • unwanted sexual touching
  • promiscuous or dangerous sexual behaviour
  • prostitution
  • coercion
  • masturbation in public settings
  • voyeurism
  • use of sexual remarks
  • misunderstanding physical boundaries
  • disrespect of privacy
  • forced sexual intercourse

Due to the range of cognitive, social and adaptive functioning impairments which many people with FASD experience, it is common for individuals with FASD to struggle to comprehend nonverbal cues, understand social boundaries, control impulses, and find ways to express sexual desires in a healthy way. There is limited research in this area, but recommendations include sexual education tailored to the needs and capabilities of each individual.

Cognitive impairments paired with a desire to fit in and please others can leave people with FASD vulnerable to manipulation and to becoming victims of sexual abuse. Research reports that over 70% of those with FASD have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, with one study finding that 87% of their sample had experienced verbal, physical and/or sexual abuse. It is extremely important that children with FASD receive constant supervision to protect them from sexual abuse, and that adolescents and adults receive adequate sex education and supervision where appropriate.

CanFASD’s issue paper summarises existing research and discusses implications for individuals, families, service providers, and policy makers. These implications are summarized below:

  1. “Individuals with FASD need access to sexual education programs. Healthy opportunities for learning about appropriate sexuality and discussing it openly may be lacking for people with FASD. It is critical that they receive sexual health education that is specifically informed by their needs and disability.”
  2. “Specific considerations regarding vulnerabilities and risks need to be kept in mind for individuals with FASD. For instance, sexual exploitation, understanding consent, history of abuse, suggestibility, memory impairments, and unplanned pregnancy may all be especially relevant for people with FASD and inappropriate sexual behaviour.”
  3. “It is likely that there are many unrecognized individuals with FASD who have had trouble with the law because of inappropriate sexual behaviour. Sexual offending treatment programs should screen for FASD, and modified treatment approaches and expectations should be considered when working with offenders with FASD.”

Brown et al. (2018) write about the need for all criminal justice and mental health professionals to be FASD-informed, so that supports are appropriate and tailored to individual needs. Brown et al.’s article describes in detail the impact which a range of common FASD impairments have on a person in the criminal justice system. They recommend therapy and education delivered at the individual’s cognitive, social and adaptive functioning level, including role-plays, to assist individuals to develop healthy and safe strategies to express their sexuality. Read more here. 

Read the CanFASD issue paper here.

Access links to additional articles on sexuality on the CanFASD website.

NOFASD’s website provides a range of resources for people caring for someone with FASD.

Watch a webinar about FASD and Sexuality here.

For more NOFASD Australia blogs click here.

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