The topic of masturbation can be uncomfortable for both parents and teachers of children both with and without disabilities. Masturbation is a developmentally appropriate activity. Often when students begin to publicly masturbate, the gut response is to try to get them to stop entirely. That will typically result in the worsening of the behavior or potentially an increase in other problematic behaviors. Rather than focusing on eliminating masturbation, we need to teach where and when masturbation can occur.
Unlike neurotypical children who understand that masturbation is a private behavior, children with exceptionalities will likely need to be directly taught the negative social ramifications of touching one’s private areas in public. With some students (younger or an individual with extensive support needs), a simple “interrupt and redirect” or providing a replacement behavior such as playing with a fidget item may be sufficient. However, for students who are older that can understand the negative social and legal ramifications of public masturbation, direct instruction is essential.
Interventions should only be implemented after the completion and review of a Functional Behavior Assessment. The team must approve any intervention before implementation.