April is Autism awareness month, and in honor of that I shall post three blogs this month about sensitive teen and parenting issues and how they relate to children and teens with a diagnosis on the autistic spectrum. It is important to note that children and teens with a diagnosis on the spectrum come in all degrees in regards to their ability to socialize and function in society. Most of the children and teens, who have been diagnosed on the spectrum I see are usually higher functioning than most. I write this because in my April posts I will be giving suggestions on how to deal with specific situations, and they may not apply to a child or teen with a spectrum diagnosis who requires a lot of care.
Human beings are sexual animals, that being written we live in a hyper sexual society. Walk up to the checkout register of your frequented grocery store and you will see magazines with scantily clad people, the same scenario goes for any where you will find a newspaper and magazine stand. It's also important not to forget about the influence of Internet and television.
The Internet is especially troubling because now in the age of the mobile Internet there are a number of mobile devices for children and adolescents that provide ready access to the world wide web with the right wifi connection. Devices such as Nintendo DS, iPods, and for families with more disposable incomes don't forget the iPad, PlayStation, Wii, Xbox and cell phones. Traditionally I have from time to time taken juvenile clients who have been alleged to or have admitted to taking advantage of a younger child for the purposes of forcing or coercing that child into sexual activities. When I first began my career, the average juvenile client's first encounter with any thing sexual was usually an adult magazine, and in rare cases an adult video. Now consistently it's been through access to the Internet, and since 2008, the number one source of pornographic materials for children and adolescents who have sexually acted out with a younger person, has been through a gaming console or mobile device. (It is important to note that I am not commenting on any statistics but I am simply commenting from my professional experience).
This post is not an attack on the porn industry, but an attempt to raise an awareness that pornography is now more easily accessed by children and young teens, who lack the maturity to process such content and delay gratification on acting out on impulsive desires as a result of viewing such content.
The impact of a child who has coerced his toddler brother or sister to engage in a sexual behavior is devastating to any family dynamic. Families can heal, but it is hard work keeping in mind that help has to be sought for both the survivor of the abuse and the perpetrator, and in most cases this involves a delicate dance with the legal system, especially with contact between the perpetrator and the survivor has been barred for the foreseeable future.
The bottom line is that the age of parents having the traditional talk of the birds and bees has changed. So when should parents start talking to children about sex? As early as possible and in a gradual process. For instance with toddlers and young children, start having the talk of good touch and bad touch, and how to say assertively say no, when an attempt at a bad touch is made. With older children and teenagers, it is important to have the talk about feelings, desires and empathy, this talk with older children and adolescents is especially important if they are males. Males on averages are more action oriented, and are more likely to objectify a more vulnerable person in order to act out some variation of their fantasies. When these terrible actions are taken out by a child or young adolescent, (believe it or not) the intent is coming from a place of curiosity and desperation and not malice. Keeping an open dialogue about sex and being on top of their technical gadgets, will take parents a long way.
Children and teens on the autism spectrum are the more susceptible group to the get caught up in the ugly side of sexuality. For instance, children and teens on the lower functioning scale of autism are more likely to be victimized, primarily because most people perceive them as being unable to communicate effectively, if at all. Parents and guardians of such children already understand their son's or daughter's style of communication and should go along those styles of communicating in teaching them about good touch and bad touch, come up with new words or sounds, for what they would say if they are inappropriately touched, or have any inappropriate experiences.
For parents with children and teenagers on the higher functioning scale of the spectrum, communication over sexuality awareness can get more complicated. This is because most children and teens in this category, while high functioning still have poor social skills with their peers. Males in this instance may have already found porn and are more likely to have already begun objectifying persons they find attractive, and as a result more likely to get in trouble. Without the appropriate social skills, they may misread the intent of a female peer who is simply being kind, and usually will make the most inappropriate of advances that warrant a legal complaint. Parents of such children already find it difficult to address sensitive topics like sex with them, because they are painfully shy and become easily angered when pressed for information.
While females in this category, not being socially astute, are more likely to be taken advantage of by male peers through simple tricky. What's worse is that in the event they report inappropriate advances, they risk not being taken seriously because they may have been mislabeled as welcoming to any inappropriate advances. A typical reason would be with their style of clothing, most females on the autism spectrum will stick to wearing a style of clothing they find more comfortable even as they begin to outgrow these clothes.
What parents can do with such teens is to be persistent, don't give into tantrums. Most people who don't have autistic children don't understand what it is like to have someone go up to three hours or more in a tantrum. Practice compassion and firmness in teaching and redirecting poor decision making. For a conversation with sexuality use anatomically correct dolls of both sexes to deliver your message. Emphasize that it is okay to have sexual desires and be attracted to some of their peers. Be cognizant of what types of mobile or computing devices they have access to do, and depending on their age do monitor what sites they visit. Also be as involved as you possibly can in their school environments, a good example would be regular attendance of PTA meetings, get a good idea of the type of families, your child's classmates are coming from and the types of peers they associate with.
Most parents have a near panic attack when they discover that their children have been visiting porn sites, they do a good job in suspending their privileges from the computer, cell phone, etc. but seldom come around in having an open conversation about the content their children have been exposed to.
At the end of the day being assertive in creating an open dialogue about sex in your household will go a long way in preventing dark and secretive behaviors.