Without proper support, we know that individuals with FASD can face many life adversities. One of the most common of these challenges is inappropriate sexual behaviour (ISB).
It is important to note that individuals with FASD may be involved in ISB as either a victim or a perpetrator.
ISB can include many different problematic behaviours such as:
- inappropriate sexual advances
- sexual touching
- promiscuous or dangerous sexual behaviour
- masturbation in inappropriate settings
- use of sexual remarks
- lack of physical boundary space
- disrespect of privacy
- forced sexual intercourse
Unfortunately, the research is quite limited when it comes to understanding the connection between ISB and FASD.
What we do know:
- People with FASD are more likely than people without FASD to be a victim of inappropriate sexual interactions, including crimes like sexual abuse. These are also more common experiences for people with other developmental disabilities.
- Rates of ISB are generally similar between males and females with FASD, but males may face more trouble with the law because of ISB.
- Brain differences in individuals with FASD may interfere with regulating sexual behaviour. For example, people with FASD can have a gap between their chronological/biological maturation and their cognitive and social maturation, which may lead to inappropriate responses to sexual urges.
Researchers have estimated that inappropriate sexual behaviours are reported in almost 40% of children and 45%-52% of adolescents and adults with FASD, and rates may change across the lifespan.
CanFASD has recently released an issue paper overviewing the research in this area, as well as implications for individuals, families, service providers, and policy makers. These implications are summarized below:
- 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.
- 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 ISB.
- It ls likely that there are many unrecognized individuals with FASD who have had trouble with the law because of ISB. Sexual offending treatment programs should screen for FASD, and modified treatment approaches and expectations should be considered when working with offenders with FASD.
It is crucial that FASD-informed approaches towards adopting healthy sexuality and properly addressing ISB are implemented to help individuals with FASD as part of holistic support. Individuals with FASD are sexual beings like everyone else and need to understand their sexuality and sexual needs in a healthy way.