I have always dreaded the day when I would have to write about Autism and puberty. However, because it is so important, I have to share this with you. This is one time when a little preparation can save major heartache down the road. Research shows that many of our kids, especially the nonverbal ones, are sexually abused because they were never taught the “right things”.
Before I scare you too much, for the sake of our kids, read this with an open mind and an open heart. There have been too many kids arrested for public indecency even though the police know the child has special needs. They leave it to the courts to decide, but in the meantime, your child may sit in jail. Unfortunately, one of our friends had her nonverbal autistic child removed from school for touching a female’s exposed belly button. His parents agreed to remove him from school to avoid the girl’s parents from pressing charges and him being branded a sexual offender for life.
Believe it or not, puberty will happen and you will have to deal with it. Some kids start as early as 8 years old, so the sooner you start the better. There are some things that you can start on right away even if your child is still too young.
The most basic concept that your child needs to know, is the concept of public and private. This will stop them from getting into trouble and also stop them from being abused by some stranger in a public bathroom. The first thing you need to do is write the words “public” and “private” on a separate piece of paper. Write PUBLIC in RED (for stop or no) and PRIVATE in GREEN (for its OK). Then go around the house and place public signs everywhere except for your child’s bedroom or private place. It’s best that your child starts to associate their bed as a safe place for them.
When Ethan reached puberty, all of a sudden we were forced to teach him private because he would rub himself in the living room or the swimming pool. Our living nightmare was that he would do that out at the supermarket or elsewhere in public. Once we taught him the concept of public and private, we never had to worry that he would behave inappropriately because he knew that his bedroom was the only place where he was allowed to touch himself.
When we started this, his teacher wanted to write private on the school bathroom. We were firmly against this as a school bathroom is public and we did not want him to get confused and believe that any public bathroom with a door was safe or private.
It took us over a year to teach Ethan and we are still very aware and vigilant at all times. We live in a world where most people do not understand autism or any special needs kids and may not be so forgiving. Just imagine what happens when our kids grow up into mature adults and still have the same issues.
At that point, hardly anyone will be understanding and forgiving!
By Dalia Shkedy – Ethan’s Mom