Awkward and Awesome Sex Talks with Your Child with Autism
I plopped down onto one of the padded barstools at my kitchen counter. There was a sticky milk ring from the morning’s breakfast that I apparently hadn’t wiped clean in my rush to get the boys out the door. I sighed as I looked at the pile of gloves, school assignments, and other random papers that had accumulated over the week. I told myself I’d get to it later as I reached for the newspaper that was rolled up in front of me.
I had had a busy day at work and was in desperate need of decompressing for a few minutes before I had to get on the laptop and wrap up my day. Then cook dinner, do dishes, and help the boys with homework. I was exhausted and still had a long To-Do List ahead of me. I mindlessly skimmed over the front page, then opened to the second page, and was disgusted by the four major headlines that I read:
Mistrial declared in child rape case. Despicable.
Man accused of molesting 7-year-old boy, formally charged with 15 felonies. What a freaking sicko.
Residents plead guilty to human trafficking. Oh. My. God.
Man formally charged with child kidnapping, sexual abuse. What is the world coming to?
I was just about to close the depressing pages together as if shutting the paper would shut off the evil, when one tiny word from the last article at the bottom of the page caught my attention.
An uncomfortable warmth prickled up my neck, and I quickly scanned the rest of the article. “Oh no,” I thought. “Please don’t let it be an autistic child who was kidnapped and sexually abused.”
As a mother to my own 12-year-old son with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), this was one of my worst fears. Just this summer, he and I had a somewhat comical conversation about inappropriate touching. We talked about how our genitals, our “private parts,” were off limits for grownups to touch. If anyone ever tried to touch his privates he needed to tell the person no, even if it was an adult. It was not okay, and he was to immediately let me know if it ever happened.
We were in the car, running errands. I casually started the conversation and then snuck glances at him in the rearview mirror to gauge his reaction. I could tell the gears in his head were turning.
“What about doctors?” he inquired.
“Your doctor may check you, but mom or dad should be in the room with you.”
Gears still turning, starting to grind faster.
“What about YOUR doctors? Didn’t they have to touch you down there when you had babies?”
I squirmed just a titch. “Yes, they did.”
I could almost hear his brain working at this point.
“Did that hurt? That had to hurt. I hope you had painkillers.”
I stifled a giggle.
“It did hurt, buddy. And I did have painkillers. Thanks for caring.”
And that was how I taught my son about preventing sexual abuse. I patted myself on the back for what I considered a job well done. I was totally feeling like a winner.
Now here I was, about to read a tragic story of some poor child with autism who had been abused in ways that made me shudder. Only, as I started reading the article, I realized it was even worse than I had thought.
A 22-year-old man had been accused of kidnapping and sexually abusing a three-year-old child. The man’s parents told police “that he is autistic and has been diagnosed with developmental delays.” The full story can be found here: http://www.standard.net/Police-Fire/2017/12/13/Bountiful-man-formally-charged-with-child-kidnapping-sexual-abuse
My mind was spinning. A sick feeling filled my gut when I thought about the gravity of the situation. I vaguely recalled the character from Of Mice and Men, what was his name? Lennie. Lennie, the simple-minded giant who loved soft, small animals. Lennie, who didn’t realize his own strength and without any malicious intent, hurt the soft, small creatures. Lennie, who didn’t mean to but did.
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Did my innocent, Nerf-obsessed son know this type of right from wrong? Did he know that he wasn’t allowed to touch others “down there”? I had been so proud of having the talk about protecting himself from all the evil predators in the world. Had I ever taught him NOT to be an evil predator himself? Up until I read that article, quite honestly the thought had never occurred to me.
When my husband got home, I told him about the news story.
“I think I should talk to him about it,” I said with a heavy sigh.
“Nah, he knows,” my hubby said. “Don’t you think?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
I finished loading the dishwasher. The boys were downstairs watching the most recent America’s Funniest Home Videos. I could hear their delighted squeals of laughter over the cat and dog videos they loved so much. I joined them on the couch just as the episode was ending.
As casually as I could, I asked, “Remember when we had the talk about how no one can touch your private parts?”
“Do you know that YOU are also not allowed to touch other people’s? Not your friends, not girls, not boys. You know that, right?”
“Yes.” Then, after a moment of thinking, he asked, “But I can touch my own, right?”
I had to choke back the giant laugh that desperately wanted to surface. My lips twitched and curled into a silly grin.
“Yes. Yes, you may touch your own.”
I later shared that funny tidbit with my husband. We had a good laugh about it. I often marvel at my son’s mind, at his quirky way of thinking. I remember back to my own awkward pre-teen years and wonder how in the world I will navigate the weirdness of puberty partnered with the weirdness of autism.
All I know is, it’s going to be one hell of a funny ride.
This article was featured in Issue 74 – Every Voice Matters