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Protective Behaviours

It is best to teach students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) how to examine their romantic and sexual relationships and decide if the behaviour of both people in the relationship is acceptable.

Providing clear examples of unacceptable behaviour, while being an excellent start, is not enough. Because students with ASD tend to be very literal, they are likely to take any list of “not-okay situations” as definitive.


Students with ASD may experience difficulty with understanding the difference between a healthy, positive relationship and one which is unhealthy or abusive. These students need clear explanation of the features of a positive relationship and the features of a harmful, unequal or abusive relationship. While it is helpful to give examples or indicators of an unhealthy/abusive relationship, it is very important to provide the student with strategies for deciding whether a relationship is positive.


Assisting the student to exercise judgement about whether they are in a bad or abusive situation is extremely important.

While designing lessons focused on developing protective behaviours, bear in mind that students with ASD tend to be very literal. It is worth remembering that doctors may legitimately need to examine the student in the future, so statements like “only your boyfriend can touch your body when you are naked” are problematic.

Some points to consider teaching:

  • Healthy vs. unhealthy relationships – how to tell the difference
  • What is abuse? (abuse may include a wide variety of acts)
  • Appropriate/safe ways to use social media
  • What is harrassment?
  • Definitions for “boyfriend” and “girlfriend”
  • Power relationships – when is it important to defy a person with power/authority?

It is important to explain consent clearly. It is equally important to explain that consent can be conditional, and can be withdrawn by either person. Within appropriate consensual interactions there may be some acts that one person does not wish to do. However, people with ASD may apply “all-or-nothing” thinking to the situation, and believe that consent, once given, cannot be withdrawn.