Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC), the region’s nonprofit public health institute, has been awarded a five-year, $4.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The Family Youth Services Bureau, to develop a first-of-its kind program for youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to prevent teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
Over the next five years, PHMC’s Philadelphia Area Sexual Health Initiative (PASHI) will work in collaboration with PHMC’s Research and Evaluation Group, and additional local researchers and practitioners to create an intervention called Promoting Awareness through Live Movement and Sound (PASHI) for Youth with ASD (PYA). This project will allow PASHI to develop and rigorously evaluate the intervention to be created with that goal that this will be the first evidence-based intervention for prevention of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection among young people with ASD in the nation.
“While ASD impacts approximately one in 68 children in the U.S., no program currently exists in the U.S. to help young people with ASD understand healthy sexual behaviors,” said Emmy Stup, Director of PHMC’s Philadelphia Area Sexual Health Initiative. “As a result, teens with ASD are less likely to receive sexual health education and have lower levels of sexual knowledge.”
The program will address sexual health issues through interactive theater-based lessons, tailored messaging to reduce risky sexual behaviors and the use of role-plays to practice communication, decision-making, and negotiation skills relating to healthy sexual behaviors. PYA will include best practices for youth with ASD through components that educate parents and caregivers and engage them in reinforcing intervention themes and lessons, additional role-plays, task analysis and concept mapping.
PYA will be implemented at public middle schools in Camden, New Jersey, and community-based sites in the Philadelphia region. Over the course of the trial, 500 youth ages 14 to 19 with ASD will be assessed for social skills, sexual behaviors and knowledge, and level of intellectual functioning at the beginning, and six and 12 months into the program. Intervention effects, including primary outcomes related to condom use and age of initiation of sex, will be evaluated using an intent-to-treat framework.
PALMS-HIV was originally developed by PHMC in 1993 to provide theory-based HIV prevention education to adolescents and young adults in community and school-based settings. The program, acknowledged by the Center for Disease Control, has found success in reducing risky sexual behaviors, increasing self-efficacy to practice safer sex behaviors, and empowering 15-18 year old male adolescents to be proactive in protecting their sexual and reproductive health.