Your Life: New program to help guide autistic teens through sex education

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Understanding how children learn has a direct impact on what they learn, and this is especially true for children on the autism spectrum.

And some vital social lessons taught in a more traditional manner don't necessarily translate for those students in real life.

A new pilot program seeks to help guide autistic teens through a very sensitive but important topic.

"She says to me, 'Mommy I want to get married'. And I don't even know what to say," said Marla Vega, mother of an autistic daughter.

Marla Vega's daughter Victoria has hopes, dreams and curiosities like most 18 year olds.

Topics regarding sex, unplanned pregnancies and STD's can be uncomfortable for any parent, but, experts say, teens on the autism spectrum, like Victoria, have a difficult time translating traditional lessons into real-life scenarios.

"I don't even know how to approach her. I did it with my previous kids, but with her it's so difficult," said Vega.

But the Public Health Management Corporation, the region's nonprofit public health institute, has been awarded a five-year, $4.8 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services for a first-of-its-kind program to help teens between 14 and 18 years old with ASD to understand healthy sexual behaviors.

"This particular intervention incorporates a lot of theater and a lot of role play. We thought this was a really great opportunity to help those young people really build their skills," said Emmy Stup, PHMC.

A teaching method proved effective in other areas of education. The program will also give these teens tools to protect themselves from abuse.

"One of the cornerstones of having ASD is having challenges around social interaction and so that means we know people with ASD are more likely to be taken advantage of," said Stup.

A lingering fear for Victoria's mother, but she is hopeful this program will have a positive impact on her daughter as she navigates through adulthood.

"I expect that she could learn how to make healthy choices and good decisions and be a happy person," said Vega.

For more information and to apply for the program, send an email to

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