Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Genetic Counseling

First Advisor

Jessica Fairey


Transitioning into a sexually mature adult is a challenging time for both an adolescent with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and his or her family. Sexual development begets challenges due to the demands it places on the social and communication skills needed to explore developmental changes that are occurring physically, emotionally and hormonally. A diagnosis of ASD is largely established by quantifying impediments in social and communication skills through observation. With deficits in these skills, one can assume that social and communication difficulties can create obstacles in the sexual development of affected individuals. Our study used quantitative and qualitative measures to determine how severity of communication correlates with sexual development in adolescents with ASD. We found statistically significant relationships between communication and frequency of the adolescent displaying sexual behaviors that are inappropriate. Additionally, we determined that the severity of communication deficit has a negative impact on adolescents’ understanding of sexual development. Furthermore, our research explored current sexual education sources, healthcare provider efficacy, and contemporary perspectives of what parents and guardians feel the biggest challenges and concerns are for adolescents navigating sexual development with a diagnosis of ASD. Ultimately, our study demonstrates the importance of communication ability in relation to sexual development and sexual education in adolescents with ASD.