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Christina Giammarco, MSSA, LSW
Expert Name: Christina Giammarco, MSSA, LSW
Expert Title: MSSA, LSW
Company Name:  Step by Step Academy
Company URL:
Short Bio: graduated from the University of Dayton in 2007 with a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and a minor in Women's Studies. While attending UD she worked as an ABA therapist on a home team. She then went on to earn her Master's Degree in Social Work from Case Western Reserve University with a focus in Children, Youth, and Families.

Throughout her academic and professional career she has focused in the areas of adoption, domestic violence, teen crisis intervention, and autism. She joined Step By Step Academy in January 2010 and is excited about being able to combine her interests of Social Work and autism. She is currently working on various projects about autism and puberty, in which she hopes to make parents more comfortable about addressing these needs with their children. Additionally she is working with various consumers doing individual and group counseling sessions with focus on gaining social skills and being able to identify and appropriately manage feelings and emotions.

A Sticky Situation: Masturbation Part 1

The onset of puberty not only changes a person’s body, but also produces new feelings and urges.  One of the most prominent urges is masturbation, or the act of touching one’s genitals usually to the point of an orgasm.  Masturbation is done by both males and females and is a healthy way to experience sexuality.  However, masturbation is a private act that may need to be taught to those on the Autism Spectrum.

When a parent first notices their child engaging in masturbatory behaviors, the first step to take is to ask yourself why they are behaving this way.  Possible questions to ask include:

  • Is this an attention-seeking behavior?
  • Are they trying to fulfill a feeling/urge?
  • Did they see this act somewhere?

It is important to acknowledge the reason they are engaging in this behavior, and then make sure that you are not intentionally or unintentionally reinforcing that behavior.  Because masturbating is seen as a healthy outlet, it is important that parents become comfortable with their child participating in the act, but are also able to teach them the appropriate time and places to engage in the act.

Most people with autism learn best through example, so it may be necessary to teach children to masturbate. The most important thing to do is to get down at the level of their development and explain this process in as simple of terms as possible. Once the child is able to understand the process, from initial feeling to the end release, it can be used as an effective and healthy outlet.  This can be a way to outlet stress, frustration, and pent up energy.

Because of the various reasons that a person may masturbate and the pattern of ritualistic behaviors and autism, it is important to work with your child to set up a schedule. 

  • Discussing an appropriate place, appropriate amount of time (set a timer – you get __ minutes of alone time)
  • Once it starts to interfere with daily  life and they are choosing it over other activities it is too frequent
  • If it becomes a ritualistic behavior, use reinforcement for not doing it and staying on schedule

To be continued…