Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (TN IDDRC, UCEDD, LEND) Produces Two New Toolkits on Goal-setting, Puberty and Sexuality for Teens and Young Adults with Autism

Author: Elizabeth Turner

February 1, 2021

The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC)(TN IDDRC, UCEDD, LEND) has added two new online toolkits to its collection of free resources, providing helpful information for teens and young adults on the autism spectrum on topics such as goal-setting and sex, sexuality, and puberty.

Both toolkits are comprised of online courses as well as complementary booklets available to download or print to accompany the coursework. To take part in either online course, register for a free account at The course links and PDF files are also available, along with several other helpful autism resources, on the "Autism-Related Materials" link on the VKC's Printable Resources webpage.

Supporting Teens and Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum: Setting and Pursuing Self-Determined Goals

"Supporting Teens and Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum: Setting and Pursuing Self-Determined Goals" was produced through a collaborative effort of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC), its Treatment and Research Institute on Autism Spectrum Disorders (VKC TRIAD), and the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation.

This plain-language toolkit is designed to help parents and caregivers, teachers, siblings, service providers, and others who support teens and young adults on the autism spectrum as they set and pursue self-determined goals. Teens and adults on the autism spectrum may also find this toolkit helpful, as well as those who support individuals with a range of disabilities.

"The web-based course includes fun and interactive activities," said principal investigator and VKC investigator Beth Malow, M.D., M.S. "For example, you will see videos to support goal-setting with coaching, modules on brainstorming goals. And some of the goals may be fairly simple, like going to the gym. Others are more complicated goals, like employment. But we break them down into smaller goals and sub-goals, and we pepper these visual rewards throughout the course."

"This is an important toolkit from the standpoint of the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation, advancing our mission to support individuals with autism, to gain meaningful employment, and to be successful on the job," added Frist Center of Autism and Innovation director Keivan Stassun, Ph.D. "Learning how to set goals, how to strive for goals, and how to achieve those goals is, of course, a very important step toward gaining employment and succeeding on the job."

"We are very grateful to the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, including Vanderbilt TRIAD and the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation for helping support the development of this toolkit," said Malow.

Watch this 3-minute video of a detailed description of the project presented Malow and Stassun. In addition, check out this blog post written about the toolkit for Transition Tennessee's Rise to Work blog series by Janet Shouse, a disability advocate and parent of a young adult on the spectrum.

Questions about the toolkit can be directed to [email protected].

Puberty, Sex, and Sexuality: An Introduction for Autistic Teens and Adults
"Puberty, Sex, and Sexuality: An Introduction for Autistic Teens and Adults" is a brand-new educational resource created by VKC TRIAD and the Vanderbilt Consortium LEND Training Program. The resource was spearheaded by lead author Jaye Capretto, Ph.D., M.Ed., LPC-MHSP, RPT. Capretto is a former VKC TRIAD Postdoctoral Fellow and Vanderbilt Consortium LEND trainee graduate who now serves as a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Licensed Professional Counselor, and Registered Play Therapist.

Sometimes autistic people and people with developmental disabilities aren't given the chance to learn about sex. But they have the same need and right to learn as everyone else. Learning about sex and sexuality is an important way to help people understand themselves and others, as well as make informed and safe decisions about what sex and sexuality mean to them.

The online course and booklet were created for teens and adults who can either review this information on their own or can work through these resources with a trusted adult to help provide support if needed.

"Learning about sex and sexuality is an important way to understand yourself, as well as to make informed and safe decisions about what sex and sexuality mean to you," said Capretto. "Sexuality is different for every person, and special care has been taken in this toolkit to talk about these important topics in a way that is respectful of all bodies, sexual orientations and gender identities. This toolkit covers many different topics, including puberty, health and reproduction, understanding things like public versus private, gender and sexuality, different types of relationships, sexual feelings, sex and safety and consent."

A complementary toolkit designed for caregivers, educators, and other trusted adults on how to discuss sensitive topics such as sex and sexuality with teens and adults with autism is currently being developed and will be available in 2021.

Click here to watch a brief video about the toolkit by lead author Jaye Capretto. For more information about these resources, contact [email protected]. To request an order of booklets to have available for your organization, please contact [email protected]. 

Elizabeth Turner is associate director of VKC Communications & Dissemination.