Dr Sebastian Trew and Douglas Russell, Institute of Child Protection Studies, Australian Catholic University


Bravehearts Foundation


Evaluate the effectiveness of various interventions designed to mitigate harmful sexual behaviour among autistic adolescents.


Autistic adolescents may experience unique challenges in interpreting social cues and communication, which can sometimes affect their behaviour, including their engagement in sexual activities. It's important to understand that these behaviours might range from risky to inappropriate, to harmful potentially influencing their own well-being and that of others around them.

These experiences can have implications for their social interactions, relationships within the family, and involvement in the community. Recognising these factors is crucial for developing supportive interventions that focus on supporting autistic adolescents to navigate their social environments more effectively and promoting positive outcomes for both the individuals and their communities.

Project details

Using a rapid evidence assessment approach, we reviewed peer-reviewed studies that focused on interventions for autistic adolescents exhibiting harmful sexual behaviours. We included analysis of pharmacological treatments, cognitive-behavioural therapy, and other psychotherapeutic methods to assess their effectiveness in reducing these behaviours.

We completed the following activities:

  • synthesised existing academic research on this topic
  • determined the impact of these interventions
  • identified gaps in current practices and literature.

Key findings

There is very limited research in this area, with a scarcity of experimental designs, the absence of direct measures of change in harmful sexual behaviour, and minimal follow-up data. Most studies focused on white male adolescents, underscoring the need for further research in autistic females and other diversities.

The evidence suggests that a variety of interventions may influence harmful sexual behaviours in autistic adolescents. However, the quality of the research is generally low, with many studies lacking rigorous methodological standards and adequate diversity representation. No single intervention emerged as distinctly effective based on the available low-quality evidence.

The research is not conclusive enough to recommend a definitive, evidence-based approach for reducing harmful sexual behaviour in autistic adolescents.

Recommended next steps

Healthcare professionals need guidance in effectively addressing harmful sexual behaviours of autistic adolescents. There is a pressing need for more robust research into interventions that are culturally sensitive and gender-responsive to cater to a diverse population. It is critical to continue exploring multi-disciplinary approaches, combining medication, behavioural, and family therapies to develop comprehensive treatment strategies.

Policymakers and healthcare organisations must support the creation and dissemination of resources, training programs, and evidence-based interventions to improve the capabilities of caregivers, educators, and clinicians in this field.


Bravehearts Foundation


Trew, S., & Russell, D. H. (2024). A Rapid Evidence Assessment on The Effectiveness of Interventions for Autistic Adolescents with Harmful Sexual Behaviors. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse.

Project timeline

January to March 2023


For more information contact Dr Sebastian Trew.

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