Intervention for Masturbation in School

  • Situation

    I am a Learning Support teacher and have a 5th grade student with High Functioning Autism. He has been putting his hands down his pants while in the classroom. It appears that he is masturbating and I am not quite sure how to handle this…any ideas?

  • Summary

    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.

  • Definition

    This intervention includes strategies for younger and older students with consideration for comprehending the behavior. Use of ‘interruption/redirection’ with a question regarding school work or providing a ‘fidget’ item can be a quick and successful intervention.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 11-13
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Pre-requisites

    Obtain parent permission.

    Before beginning any intervention, ensure a comprehensive Functional Behavior Assessment has been completed. Ensure any interventions put into place align with the results from the assessment.

  • Process

    1. Before addressing this issue, the adult involved should be sure that he/she can remain positive, supportive and not pass judgment or shameful feelings onto the child. For all students there should be a collaboration with the families to ensure a streamlined approach and supportive message about self-exploration. Speak with the families about encouraging private times in the home for the child to self-explore.

    2. If a Functional Behavior Assessment has been completed and social attention identified as a potential function, redirect without providing direct acknowledgement or social attention to the behavior. Consider redirecting to another physical activity or ongoing activity. You can provide a ‘fidget item’ as well to the student, again without attention to the behavior.

    3. Teachers should conduct a preference assessment to identify other potential reinforcers. While touching yourself may be number one, other items or activities may serve to compete with masturbation in the school context. Providing access to alternative and competing reinforcers contingent on the absence of inappropriate self-touch may help to minimize or decrease the behavior.

    4. It would also be a good idea to address how you or other teachers will cue the child to stop the behavior in a subtle way should he forget while in school. Come up with another activity to keep hands busy. Make sure to keep that alternate activity accessible to the student. If possible, proactively engage students in exercise or frequent movement breaks. This may minimize the likelihood of masturbation during class.

  • Documents and Related Resources (website resource for pictures/icons)


    This resource was authored by Watson Institute Special Education Consultant, Rachel Schwartz, Ph.D., BCBA-D 

    If you have questions or concerns about the Watson Institute’s use of this information, please contact us.