Understanding Teen Autism and Hypersexuality: Why Do Teens on the Spectrum Struggle With Sexually Inappropriate Behavior

If you are a parent of a teenage son grappling with both autism and hypersexuality, you might be curious about why adolescents on the spectrum often face issues with sexually inappropriate behavior. In this episode, Tiffany Herlin, LCSW, sits down with Matthew Call, LMFT, who works at Oxbow Academy—a specialized residential treatment center for teenage boys dealing with compulsive sexual behaviors. While Oxbow Academy addresses a wide range of compulsive sexual issues in young males, this particular podcast will focus on assisting parents whose autistic sons exhibit hypersexuality and sexually inappropriate actions.

Navigating Hypersexuality in Autistic Teens: Support and Strategies for Parents

Navigating the complexities of raising a teenage boy with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is challenging enough, but when hypersexual behaviors come into play, it can feel overwhelming and isolating. As a parent, you are not alone in facing these struggles. Understanding and addressing these behaviors is crucial, and together, we can find compassionate and effective strategies to support your child's growth and well-being. Join Tiffany Herlin, LCSW, and Matt Call, LMFT of Oxbow Academy as they discuss:

  • Unraveling the intricate reasons behind why teenage boys with Autism Spectrum Disorder might struggle with hypersexuality.
  • Recognizing the profound impact hypersexual behaviors can have on adolescents with ASD.
  • Delving into the potential repercussions stemming from such behaviors.
  • Confronting the formidable hurdles ASD youth encounter in deciphering emotions and navigating social interactions effectively.

Concerned about your teen's escalating sexual behaviors? Don't wait. Get the support you need now. Oxbow Academy can help. We offer personalized support for families facing these challenges. Call 855-676-4272 to learn how we can guide your family toward healing.

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    Tiffany: Welcome to our podcast. My name is Tiffany Herlin. I'm a licensed clinical social worker and today I'm interviewing Matt Call, who is an LMFT. He's from Oxbow Academy, which is a sex specific residential treatment program for teenage boys. While Oxbow Academy treats a variety of problematic sexual behavioral issues in teenage boys, this specific podcast is going to address teenage boys diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and hypersexuality.

    Matt is an expert on this topic, which is why we're having him. I'm really excited to be talking to him about this. Oxbow has a house for boys specifically diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and he works with those boys and our hope with this podcast is that if you're a parent listening with a teenage boy who has ASD, which is what I'm going to refer to it as from this point forward and is sexually acting out, you can find some guidance on this issue and realize that you're not alone and there is help, absolutely. There are steps you can take to navigate this very complicated and traumatic situation.

    Now, please remember that this podcast is not a replacement for therapy, nor do we provide legal advice. Please always seek a mental health professional and lawyer for your situation.

    Alright, let's jump in. Thanks for coming.

    Matt: Thanks for having me.

    Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

    Tiffany: Let's start with the very basic question. What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

    Matt: And that's not a very basic question at all, actually.

    Tiffany: We'll give the reader's digest version.

    Matt: There's kind of two schools of thought, really, about this.

    There is the medical definition that's used in the DSM, that's used for diagnostics, which basically comes down to three key criteria.

    One is that there are some kind of deficiencies or deficits in social communication, the way that people interact with each other. They're just not able to pick up on cues. Their nonverbal communication is out of sync. They just don't relate in the way that we would normally expect people to.

    The second is that there's repetitive, restricted patterns of behavior, things that they do consistently and that they seem to have a hard time being kind of pulled away from.

    And then the third is that this is causing impairment in a variety of different areas. It should be present from early childhood, although it might not fully manifest until much later.

    Now that's kind of the cold clinical definition. If you talk to autistic individuals themselves they really struggle with the concept of using deficit focused language. There's a bunch of organizations out there that have been run by autistic individuals that have really emphasized the importance of looking at differences. We just relate differently. We communicate differently. We have different ways of expressing what we want to communicate about and how we want to do that.

    And so it's really important to kind of understand that there's kind of those two schools of thought. And one of the things that as a clinician that I'm especially concerned with is I want to connect with these individuals in a way that makes sense to them in a way that allows me to access the stuff that's getting them stuck and that means I have to be pretty flexible.
    And so if I go in there with the expectation is that you are supposed to communicate this way with me, we're supposed to sit down and do traditional talk therapy, lay out on the couch, like Freudian style and just free associate or whatever, for a lot of autistic kids, that's just going to go over their head and there's going to be a disconnect.

    Challenges of Living in a Non-Autistic World

    Tiffany: Oh, yeah. A lot of kids on the spectrum have to live in this non autistic world and it just doesn't work for their brains.

    Matt: Exactly.

    Tiffany: Yeah, interesting enough, I also worked at the same house that Matt did for a number of years working with the boys on the spectrum and I did learn so much working there.
    Another term that I think is important to talk about is neurodiverse, meaning that their brain just fires differently than someone else's brain who we would consider neurotypical. So someone with a neurodiverse brain isn't necessarily diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Someone who's ADHD could have a neurodiverse brain, right? But it just means that there's nothing wrong with their brain. It just means it functions differently. So we have to, like you said, as clinicians, approach them differently because they see the world differently.
    They process things differently and it's not fair for them. It's like trying to put a round peg in a square hole. It's not fair for us to try to make them fit in the mold that the world expects them to.

    Matt: Absolutely. I want just one clarification. I think that the term that's most often used right now is neurodivergent because the mindset is, just like we have diversity in sexual orientation, just like we have diversity in gender identity, we have diversity in racial, ethnic, religious, a variety of different diversities, neurodiversity broadly means we have lots of different kinds of brains. And so neurodivergence is kind of, I know it seems like a fickle difference, but the distinction there is that there's a group of people that their brains function statistically differently than other people.

    So you've got like a statistical bell curve, neurodivergent individuals are those that would kind of be on those margins of that bell curve.

    Tiffany: No, that makes sense.

    Matt: They function differently from the norm. And yeah, I love that you pointed out ADHD, Tourette's syndrome, dyslexia, fetal alcohol, there's a variety of learning disorders.

    There's a whole host of other kinds of adjacent diagnoses that would fit under that. And this is especially helpful when I'm working with kids because sometimes I will have somebody come into my office that is clearly functioning from a neurodivergent perspective, but either because they're especially socially skilled or they're just really good at masking it, which is a lot of autistic individuals learn how to get really good at masking their autism.

    Tiffany: To survive they have to.

    Matt: Exactly. And so they may not meet criteria for diagnostics or they may not hit the cutoffs for that. And it's helpful to say whether you have this diagnosis or not, it's clear that your brain functions in a way that's categorically different from a lot of your peers and that's created some problems for you. So let's talk about that.

    Tiffany: Yeah. Let's also point out that it used to be. It's changed in the diagnostic language. It used to be Autism and Asperger's is what we used to label it as, but now they've changed it to a spectrum disorder. So helping parents and educating people to know that it's a spectrum from one to a thousand, someone who is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder over here may look very different from someone who is diagnosed over here and they're going to struggle with different traits and different things.

    I had a family member and she, to a point, was almost non verbal and now she's verbal and she's functioning, but she was a much at a lower end of the spectrum versus some of the kids we work with are super genius and high functioning and you wouldn't pick up on it right away that they're on the spectrum.

    Matt: And they may function really well in one area. So they kind of get labeled as high functioning, which is a term that a lot of autistic individuals don't like. They'll get labeled as kind of high functioning because they kind of come across as able to mask in certain ways, but then if you put them in a situation of high stress where they're out of their window of tolerance, we'll probably talk about a little bit later about that, they are going to suddenly not look so high functioning. And so it's kind of a misnomer. Steve Snarch, who's kind of one of the big wigs in autism work has famously said, "If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism." And there's just so much variety in there so even as we talk today, I struggle with this idea of being an expert because the kids that I'm working with are the experts in autism because they're teaching me how autism interacts in their lives.

    And I think it's just important to understand that what we talk about today may not apply for your particular child, to those that are listening. What we're talking about here, there's a variety of things that they may apply to your child, or it may not. That doesn't necessarily mean your child's not autistic or, or neurodivergent, but it just means there's so much variety in there.

    The Spectrum of Autism Spectrum Disorder

    Tiffany: Again, that spectrum, that was a very important change that they had made in the diagnostic manual that I think is really important. We could spend, honestly, hours on this topic, but let's move forward because that's not why our listeners are here. They probably know that their son is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

    If not, we're going to help educate. But yet, now there's another piece that makes it even so much more complicated. It's the hypersexuality or problematic sexual behaviors that parents are seeing. So why are teenagers on the spectrum more vulnerable to hypersexual behaviors or problematic sexual behaviors, which we like to refer to as PSB?

    Matt: The short answer, I think, is because sexual behaviors are social interactions and they involve other people. They involve being able to read interest cues. They involve being able to kind of get a read on the other person and kind of gauge where they're at and their interest and if that is an area where you struggle you're going to see challenges with that.
    And we'll probably get into this a little bit later as well, but one of the other issues that you'll often see with autistic individuals is that they get something stuck in their head. We use the term perseveration and it doesn't come out.

    They'll just replay that over and over again and continue to create problems with that.

    Tiffany: They just fixate on that.

    Matt: So if, and bear in mind, autistic individuals are still sexual beings. I think sometimes as parents, we think, "Oh, my child's just so aloof about social interactions. They're naive, they don't seem interesting."

    They're still a sexual being and we need to recognize they're going to have sexual impulses. They're going to have desires, they're going to have urges, and if they don't know how to kind of navigate those areas, you're going to run into a whole lot of problems. And if we as parents think that we can just kind of go with the flow and things won't create problems, a lot of times I think the parents I work with get really surprised by how deep their kids get into these things because they just always assumed they were just indifferent towards relationships generally.

    Tiffany: Well, I know I'm probably jumping ahead, but I think it's good at this stage of our podcast to walk parents through what might lead a kid to a place like Oxbow Academy.

    Matt: Right. Absolutely.

    Tiffany: One thing that I found, and you can jump in and tell me if you've seen other things, but I found that a kid who's on the spectrum, it's an interesting journey that takes them to Oxbow. A lot of times, they're not necessarily deviant kids. They're not pre-planned out, they're not that “offender” who has pre-planned out this roadmap to sexually act out. What happens is they're often curious about sex They may lack some sexual education and maybe not. Some parents have maybe talked to him about it but they're still curious and wondering what's going on. And a lot of times they'll jump on to The internet and start looking things up.

    Matt: Totally innocently.

    Tiffany: Yeah innocently, like I'm just curious. I want to know what sex is. I hear people talking about it. I'm not picking up on the social cues. I don't get it. So I know I can go on the internet and look things up. But because they are so concrete and black and white, they start going down this rabbit hole of trying to find the boundaries of what there is in pornography.
    And there are no boundaries in pornography and they get stuck sometimes in this dark, dark web. Literally like sometimes some of our kids end up on the dark web seeing those really deviant themes, but because they're concrete, they think this is what sex is.

    Matt: Right and a lot of times I think even, and again, we might be jumping ahead here, but I think there's also a lot of kids that I've worked with personally where the route to get there wasn't even directly through sex.
    I've worked with students that were really big into that, that had the kind of these fan bases, things that they were interested in, My Little Pony or Animal Crossing or Teen Titans. Innocent stuff. Land Before Time, for crying out loud! I mean, they get involved in these things. They love them. They want to understand it because it gives them a place to kind of feel like they can connect.

    And then they go online and they just, again, they start that momentum going off, "I'm going to pursue this thing that I'm really interested in and just learn everything I can about it." There's an unnamed rule on the internet that if something is out there, it will eventually be turned into porn. Yeah and that's exactly what happens with these kids. They stumble upon this stuff that was not intended to be pornographic, but someone somewhere decided it needed to become porn.

    Tiffany: Which is crazy. And the parents whose kids stumble on this stuff are like, "I had no idea that existed."

    Matt: It's not your grandfather's porn. And I think that's part of the challenge, is a lot of parents may not be aware of exactly how pervasive of a problem it is, and how easy it is to fall into that. It used to be that, about the worst thing you might run into is general nudity or possibly some milquetoast heterosexual one guy, one girl pornography. And that's just the kid stuff nowadays. You get into that deep stuff really pretty quickly because porn is designed to do that.

    Tiffany: I'm going to argue that porn is designed to create wild fantasy. It's not consensual. It's not healthy. It's not realistic. It's for fantasy. And so a kid who's on the spectrum, let's take it one step further, they don't understand that and they conceptualize it as, "Oh, this is what sex is." But yet they don't have the social skills to go to someone their age and to pursue a sexual relationship or even understand how to build even a friendship or a really deep relationship. So sometimes, not always, it can lead to them finding opportunities, again, not pre planned, but more mom asked them to watch their sibling.

    They saw something on the internet. This isn't always the case, but I'm just kind of running through one scenario, and they're left home with the younger siblings. They're curious. Younger siblings are more vulnerable. They have an opportunity and they act out and now they're in huge trouble.

    Matt: Right. Because parents have to report that to CPS and then CPS gets involved and says, "your kid can't be here."

    Tiffany: Yeah and CPS treats them like a kid not on the spectrum who is deviant planned out preplanned, which a kid on the spectrum acting out is very different from a kid who is neurotypical.

    Matt: Right. And it's especially difficult if those, again, I'm cautious about using this term, but individuals that are able to mask better. So they kind of appear to be higher functioning. And so a lot of times those students will come into my office and, they've already, you know, a lot of the people in their lives have already determined that because you're pretty socially aware, you can make eye contact, you can stay on task and seem to have some reciprocity, you must be a high functioning student. And therefore the only reason why you're getting into this problematic sexual behavior is because you follow that typical "offender" model.

    Tiffany: Yeah. Which these kids aren't. I would say this, do you agree? As a clinician, how you treat these kids is different from how you treat kids who are not diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder? I mean, sexually actually acting out.

    Matt: I always use a neurodiversity affirming paradigm in my work, because again, even if I'm working with a neurotypical kid, I still want to kind of relate with them on a level that makes sense for them. But in terms of what I generally expect when the kid steps into my office, if I know they're autistic, there's probably some initial expectations that I'm going to be dealing with a different brand of kid that I'm going to be working with when it's a neurotypical kid.

    Tiffany: Yeah.

    Matt: But I do try to kind of fill that out for each particular student.

    Tiffany: Makes sense. Okay. I know I took us off track.

    Matt: No worries.

    Tiffany: But I think that was important to hit on right from the start so that parents who are listening don't feel like, "Oh my gosh I'm alone and no one's gonna understand my kid," because I think if you're listening to this podcast, you're not alone and there are parents who are going through similar things.

    Matt: And actually, maybe just one final thought because it just popped in my head, empathy is a big part of this as well. A lot of times autistic individuals may not be able to convey empathy the way that people are used to and so that's another problem is that a lot of times it will look as if this student has no remorse. They don't seem to care. They don't seem to feel bad about what they've done. And my experience has been most of the time they have deep, deep shame, tremendous shame about what they've done. They know it was wrong, but the way that we expect them to express that is the way we would expect a neurotypical individual to express that and they may not be able to do that.

    And so I think, unfortunately, sometimes parents look at these kids and they're like, "Is my son just a psychopath? Is there no empathy for them whatsoever?" And it's like, most of the time that's not the case. I mean, I'm not saying it's outside of the realm of possibility. I've worked with some kids that could legitimately be psychopaths. But I haven't worked with one yet that I felt that way about. Every one of them, they have shame. They do feel bad about it. They want to feel better. They want to make things right, but they may not be able to convey that the way that we expect them to.

    Challenges in Understanding Emotions

    Tiffany: Oftentimes that disengagement from remorse and connection is just self preservation because, as an adult with a fully functioning brain that's neurotypical, shame can be so suffocating and overwhelming for me. I couldn't imagine being in that place of a 12 year old boy with ASD and having to face the gravity of that shame that comes with that.
    So it's just easy to kind of disconnect. I don't know if disassociates the right word, but more disconnect.

    Matt: Well, I remember one of the conferences I went to, Danny Raede, who's an outspoken advocate for individuals with Asperger's, again, this is before the diagnostics were changed, he sat down and he said, "Here's the problem. We treat Autistic individuals as if they should just be able to kind of automatically understand their emotions." And he says, "A lot of times for an autistic individual, imagine yourself on the side of a four lane freeway with cars flying by at a hundred miles an hour. And you're sitting on one side of this and you're watching these cars whiz past you in both directions. And someone was over on the other side, just saying, 'just come across. Come on, what are you worried about? Just come across. It's no big deal.'" He says, "That's what it's like when we ask autistic kids, tell us about your emotions."

    Because you just get creamed by these things cause they experienced them sometimes very intensely. Again, I also acknowledge diversity. There's going to be individuals that are going to be very under stimulated and under emotionally aroused. But for a lot of these kids, yeah. It's like, if I start to talk about my shame, I'm going to get creamed by it and, it's just a lot.

    Tiffany: So what does hypersexuality look like in a teenage boy with autism?

    Matt: It's tough to tell because a lot of it is not that it's necessarily hypersexuality. A lot of times it's that perseveration. When I find something that I like, and again, just in case people don't know perseverance, the term is when somebody gets something stuck in their head and they kind of replay it over and over again. And I think what often hypersexuality will look like is all roads kind of lead back to this, just like if you've sat down with an autistic individual that has like a preferred interest, something that they love to talk about, they can go on about it for hours and it seems like all roads kind of lead back to their preferred interest.

    And unfortunately what happens, I think, in hypersexuality with autistic kids is that a lot of times all roads lead back to sex. All roads lead back to I have to get my fix from pornography, from acting out, from compulsive masturbation, whatever that looks like. It's the thing that helps me to kind of regulate and stay in a space.

    And so then it becomes a form of stemming for them.

    Tiffany: Explain what that means.

    Matt: Stemming is from the term is stimulation. The idea is that a lot of times individuals on the autism spectrum will either be hyper stimulated, meaning that they're feeling so much of a thing almost to the point where it's too much.
    These are the kids that are raging, they're punching holes in walls. They're screaming, biting themselves, stuff like that, because they're just feeling so much of a thing and they need to kind of come down from that place and be in a calmer space. So they will try to cool themselves down.

    Tiffany: And that's where things like weighted blankets and compression or things like that help for those kids, or lights down, getting rid of that stimulation, right?

    Matt: Right. And then, and then the reverse of that is the hypo-stimulated kids. Hypo aroused. Those are the kids who are not feeling enough of something and they come across as just drab, bored, blah, numb and they don't like being in that state. And so they will actually do things to try to amp themselves up. And so you'll, what you see is kind of this back and forth between I'm going along and I start to get stressed out and so I'm like screaming and yelling and then I go and masturbate and it calms me down. And then I start to feel really depressed because I'm masturbating and then I want to do something to amp myself up. So I'm going to go look at porn to make myself feel alive. And it's this back and forth between these two different states.

    Challenges Faced by Parents

    Tiffany: That makes a lot of sense. And then let's throw in the impulsivity as well with kids on the spectrum, which just makes for the perfect storm.

    Matt: Yes. I've got three kids of my own, two of them are autistic. The third one, we're still not sure yet. She's young enough, we'll see. And I often tell the parents, you guys are living my nightmare because it's just, you know that these are sweet kids. You know you love 'em but there's just so many things kind of at play against them. And we're just in a world that doesn't take very good care of autistic kids. It's not really built for them. And so, yeah, I think a lot of times parents find themselves in that spot where they're like, "What do I do with this?" cause it's just a lot and I don't know how to kind of pull him out of this never ending loop he's gotten himself into.

    Tiffany: Well, there's not a manual for having kids and there's definitely not a manual for having a kid who's on the spectrum. It's like, if you don't speak Chinese, it's like reading a book in Chinese, it's backwards and it's not what we're used to with a book.

    Yeah. I I think another thing to point out is that often kids on the spectrum will confuse sex with connection and attachment as well. So it's so much easier to go look at porn and to sexually act out than it is to talk to a person of the opposite sex or even someone they care about. There's a couple ways this could go, but it's harder to read the social cues. Maybe know how to connect to a girl who you have interest in. What about if you're rejected? And that's so much harder than to go click a button, have someone do something that you like, you release oxytocin in your brain, which makes you feel connected and attached to them, and you feel safe and there's no rejection. So much easier.

    Or I've also seen with kids that they confuse, especially if they struggle with attachment issues with adoption, that they've often thought I feel close to someone when it's sexual. So that's where these things help parents understand where they sexualize, say even a step sibling relationship, step mom relationships where their step siblings and step mom may be just as flabbergasted and alarmed that they're sexualizing their relationship. Yet at the same time, it's because, not that they're trying to make it sexual, they just confuse that with, "This is how I get close to you."

    Matt: Right. Well, and then it doesn't help that, again back to the rabbit hole, it doesn't help that most of what used to be considered fairly deviant sexual interest, deviant sexual arousal has become pretty mainstream. Yeah. There's a term they use, "faux cest", which is kind of like incest because, but it's it's become more mainstreamed.

    Impact of Mainstream Sexual Content

    Matt: I want to say there was an interview with some rapper where he was talking about how he loves watching stepmom stepson porn and it's like openly on TV, just like, "Yeah, I watch this all the time" and a lot of these kids will actually get into that. They'll watch pornography that is yeah, it's a stepmom and a stepson. It's step siblings. It's, you know, cousins. It's MILFs. It's like, you know, whatever, right?

    Tiffany: One year that was the highest search term for pornography. I can't remember what year it was. It was several years ago.

    Matt: But I mean, it's also been things as, I'll let your imagination run with this one, but I know one of the years it was fidget spinner. I don't know how, I don't even want to know, I don't even want to know. But Pornhub is smart. They keep these things. They pay attention to what people seem to be looking for and they provide and the problem is, again, we could argue all day about what the value of that in a neurotypical world, but in a neurodivergent world, that's a real powder keg.

    Tiffany: Oh, yeah!

    Matt: It causes a lot of problems for these kids because they won't necessarily be able to discern between truth and reality and fiction. And again, they get something stuck in their head, they hyperfixate on it, they can't pull themselves away from it.

    Social Acceptance and Legal Consequences

    Tiffany: Well, that's the other issue is they have difficulty understanding appropriate sexual behaviors and understanding public versus private, you know, so like you were talking about the boy who was openly watching this pornography, they don't understand like, "Oh, this isn't something I should do in public," or maybe they expose themselves or they're masturbating in public or leave their door open, It's not always, again, that deviant offender behavior, like they're hoping someone catches them. It's just sometimes a lack of understanding. Like that's just not socially okay.

    Matt: Well, there's about 40 steps in between, "I've met someone and I think I might be interested in them," and "I'm hopping in bed with them." There's about 400 steps that take place in between there, with a whole bunch of little micro interactions that are supposed to happen. And I think a lot of times my experience with autistic kids is they want to compress that as much as possible. They're like, "Why waste time with small talk? And then maybe if she sees me, then maybe she'll be interested." And it's like, you can't do it that way. That doesn't work.

    Tiffany: I actually was working with a boy, who I was trying to help him understand what an appropriate relationship would be. And he said, "Well, how do I know when she would want to have sex with me?" So we were talking about a scenario of like, he'd been dating a girl for a while and they were watching a movie and they've already kissed and maybe they start kissing and things start leading, you know, getting more physical. And I was obviously a little more specific and graphic, but for our listeners, I'll spare them. But at the end, I said, "That's the point where you step back and say, 'I would like to take things further. Can we have sex?'" Like specifically, I had to help him concretely understand that.

    And so I said, "What did you hear?" Cause that's also an important piece of seeing if what he heard was what I was hoping he'd get and he said, "I kiss a girl and Then I touch her boobs." I was like, "Okay, let's start over like you're gonna get slapped" and I jokingly told and then he laughed and I said that's not quite the next step.

    Matt: Yes. And to be fair, it's difficult for neurotypical people to figure that out, let alone for somebody who struggles already with that.

    Tiffany: Yeah, agreed.

    Matt: It's really a wonder anybody gets together.

    Tiffany: I know, right? And yeah, it's such a complex world for even adults to really understand.

    Matt: Right.

    Tiffany: Last question before we wrap up this episode, unless there's something I'm missing you wanted to talk about. How can hypersexuality behaviors be detrimental to teenagers with autism? And what are the potential consequences that may arise from such behaviors? I mean, we've actually kind of already touched on this.

    Matt: I think one big thing I would add though, is just the stigma of it overall. You Again, autistic kids oftentimes live in a world that is not designed for them, where people kind of make assumptions about them. They may think of them as awkward or creepy or strange. And if it gets out that you have a reputation for problematic sexual behavior, that's only going to further alienate these kids, which is only going to then drive them further into, "Well, clearly I can't exist in a neurotypical world with healthy sexuality. So if I still think this need is important, I'm going to have to go underground. I'm going to have to turn to porn. I'm going to have to turn to trying to hook up online with people because that's really easy." And then we get into catfishing issues and it just creates a whole lot of problems for them.

    But the overall net effect is I'm just more stigmatized than I was before. And I'm even more of an outsider than I was before this started. And I don't want these kids to feel like outsiders. I want them to feel like that they belong in society, that we care about them because they have things to contribute.

    And if you look at the history of autism, we have shamed and stigmatized autistic kids long enough. We need to start embracing them, really seeing what they have to contribute because they've got a lot. And this, unfortunately, you carry around with you the stigma, but also the legal consequences.

    Tiffany: I was going to point that out. The system and a lot of states are, I'm just gonna say, are not educated on this topic as they need to be and they treat kids in the legal system as sometimes adults and sometimes as Neurotypical kids who are planned out, who may have had a predisposition.

    Matt: Right. And I worked with a kid once that the challenge was that this happened around the time that the Me Too movement was happening, which is don't get me wrong. That was necessary. We needed to shine a light on the experiences these women are having. But I think in this particular situation, this district attorney was feeling a lot of pressure to, "We got to throw the book at somebody. We got to show that we're taking this stuff seriously." And it was a kid who was autistic, but really good at masking it and he got the brunt end of this and I don't know how really fair it was. I mean you want justice and you want relief for victims, obviously, but you also have to take into account that these kids just don't offend for the same reasons that neurotypical people do and this particular district attorney just wasn't interested in hearing any of that.

    Tiffany: So throwing the book at them is not going to help. It's going to confuse them and compound and shame them and to isolate them more, versus educating them, giving them the skills that they need and helping them understand what is socially and sexually appropriate, what is healthy, and that they can live a healthy life that eventually includes someone they fall in love with and can have a healthy sexual relationship with, which is part of being human.

    Systemic Challenges and Advocacy

    Tiffany: And I actually had a kid who I worked with who was definitely on the spectrum, who in his particular state, wanted to put him on the sex offender registry at 14. And I mean, we had to fight that and I was like, "No. Yes, this kid has made some grievous choices," yet again, helping them understand we had to educate their system.

    Matt: You could not design a system that would make the problem worse then that system.

    Tiffany: Yeah. Well, luckily they didn't. They put him on probation. He completed our treatment and they really honored that and recognized that and we had to educate them that, "No, this is what he needs. He doesn't need to be put on the registry. He needs help and he's in a place that needs help and we're going to educate him." And he's gone to live an amazing life and to do quite well. Like, I'm just so proud of him. But to know that he was facing that just breaks my heart.

    Okay. Well, we are going to wrap up this episode. Thank you for all joining. This is a hard conversation to have. I appreciate us being able to have it because Matt, you and I know very well that we need to have this conversation.

    Matt: Absolutely. It needs to be talked about more openly and we'll probably get into this in one of the later episodes, but especially for parents who, there's just no one to talk to about this kind of stuff.

    Tiffany: Well, that's actually our next episode. So tune in to our next episode. If you're a parent listening, the next topic we're going to talk about is challenges faced by parents and caregivers and how they can get that support that they need. Thanks for joining.

    Matt: Thanks.

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