FAS and Inappropriate Sexual Behavior
2002 Teresa Kellerman

Dr. Ann Streissguth has published a report on secondary disabilities (Final Report from Research for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1996) based on studies of 415 individuals with diagnosed Fetal Alcohol pectrum Disorders (FASD) from age 6 to 51. This research shows that about half of the individuals with FASD reported having been in trouble with the law or had repeated problems with inappropriate sexual behaviors.

Almost all of the parents who have spoken to me personally have confided that their child with FASD had exhibited inappropriate sexual behaviors, but they were reluctant to discuss this with helping professionals because they were unsure about the consequences of this being known or did not want it to be written into their child's official record.

When we understand that our children grow up with normal hormone surges (that begin well before puberty) and that they are stunted with the social development of a kindergartener even as they become of legal adult age, and that their frontal lobes are damaged in a way that interferes with their judgment and impulse control, it is easy to see how sexual behaviors can be a problem. When you add their vulnerability and naivete to the palette, you get a picture of how high the risk is of becoming a victim, a perpetrator, or both.

It is the peculiar combination of normal sexual development and stunted social development that inspired an author to write the article "Boy in a Man's Body." At this writing, John is one of the few adults with FASD that I know who has not been in trouble with the law. But he has come close, too close for my comfort, and so there are few that I trust to provide supervision for John.

The problem seems to be that our children appear to be knowledgeable and wise, and often they are. But that brings with it the assumption that they should be accountable for their behavior, that they can control their impulses and make good decision, which we all know they cannot, at least not often, and not consistently.

There are those who have attempted to teach John to be appropriate. (As if I haven't tried all these years.) But it's not a matter of learning. John knows what is right and wrong, and he knows the consequences and understands many aspects of the law regarding sexual assault. But he still cannot control his impulses and he still makes decisions that get him into trouble. This is a matter of neurological dysfunction.

It's not a matter of intelligence either. There seem to be serious problems whether the person has a low IQ or is of normal intelligence. According to Streissguth's study, children and adults of all ages along the spectrum of FASD report a history of the following sexual behaviors (starting with the most prevalent):

Those with an IQ under 70 tend to get into trouble for inappropriate sexual touching and for masturbating in public. We all know that means they touch or rub themselves through their clothes without even thinking, in spite of our repeated reminders that this is not okay behavior in public. And of course, the sexual touching is not always intentional or understood as being wrong at the moment.

According to Streissguth, the females in her study who had sexual behavior problems were more likely to have been victims of sexual abuse. The males in her study with sexual behavior problems were more likely to get into trouble with the law. Among both males and females, those who had been victims of violence were four times as likely to exhibit inappropriate sexual behavior as those who had not experienced violence. John has never experienced or witnessed violence, nor had he ever been neglected or abused as a child, emotionally, sexually, or any other way. Still, at age 10, if he were in a room with other children who had been abused, neglected, or bounced from home to home, you would not be able to pick him out, as his behavior looked just as if he had been sexually abused and had never been taught proper manners. I'm afraid at age 24, there are times he still gives this impression.

Once John got in trouble for inappropriate touching while on a school playground. He was about 15 at the time, but emotionally at the level of a 5 year old. It's a long story, that I will tell sometime soon. The repercussions from this incident had a lasting impression on John, and invoked such fear into my heart for John's future, that I resolved to do everything in my power to keep John out of prison. So far I have succeeded. But only with close monitoring by either myself, his brother, his job coach, or his mentor. I can only hope that this success will continue after John enters a community home placement, which looms in the not-too-distant future as I prepare to apply for residential services for John.

In the meantime, I will continue to monitor John closely, especially in social situations, trying not to feel guilty about depriving him of a "normal life of independence" and trying not to buckle under the pressure professionals impose in the name of self-determination for me to just "let go." If I gave John the freedom that some disability experts think I should, it would only be a matter of time before he became another statistic in the criminal justice system. We could certainly let our child-adults fly from the nest, if it weren't for their Broken Beaks and Wobbly Wings".


Joan's Journal
Letter from Aaron's Father
Sexuality and FAS
A Mother Speaks Out
Sexual Behaviors
Sex Ed for FAS/E
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