Discuss the importance of identifying Grown-Up Buddies (adults who are responsible for a child’s protection) to communicate any unsafe or confusing situation. Depending upon your child’s exceptionality, alternative means of communication may be used. Tablets, pictures, and other forms of communication may need to be used as your child identifies their Grown-Up Buddies/Trusted Adults.
Help your child understand that they space around them that should not be touched or seen unless they are hurt and need help and that their body has private parts.
It is important to remember that your child’s cognitive development levels and physical development levels may be different. In other words, your child may be functioning on a 4 year old level cognitively, but be in a 15 year old body. Parents need to remember age appropriate ways-not cognitively appropriate ways.
Talk with your child about the difference between Safe and Unsafe Secrets.
When your child is faced with being asked or told to keep a secret:
When your child discloses an Unsafe Secret to you:
Childhood sexual abuse is sadly prevalent in our country, with 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys being victimized by age 18. Sex offenders often target children who are withdrawn or isolated from their peers, whose home life is chaotic, or whose parents need help with babysitting or transportation. Children with disabilities can be particularly vulnerable, especially if they have challenges communicating or if they need help with personal hygiene tasks such as using the bathroom or bathing. Children with some disabilities, such as Down Syndrome, may be extremely affectionate, even with strangers, making them susceptible to abuse.
Your child’s unique needs are very important when beginning to talk with them about safety and safe interactions with their caretakers. There will be many adults in your child’s life, depending upon the nature of the care they require. Caregivers may be required to assist with toileting, bathing, dressing, and other duties that put them in a more intimate level of interaction with your child.
Your child should be included in decisions about their care. It is important to remember that even a child with lowered cognitive functions and abilities, has a voice in how they are cared for by adults…. “Nothing about me, without me.” Keeping lines of communication with your child openand honest is critical to their safety. Your child must feel free and safe to communicate their feelings to you about their interactions with any adult. Remember that children who feel like they can talk to their parents about anything are much less susceptible to being victimized by a sexual predator.
Notice Your Child’s Interactions with Others
Notice who is interacting with your child and pay attention to different interactions. Keep a journal and write changes in your child’s behavior. Notice if you see a pattern in behaviors based upon interactions with certain people. If you are concerned with what you observe, trust your instincts.
Be prepared with different skills and strategies based upon your child’s needs. Some disabilities, such as Down Syndrome, may tend to make a child more open and trusting to everyone because of they way that disability presents and the characteristics of it. Autism Spectrum Disorders can be challenging depending upon where a child may be on the spectrum. At one end of the spectrum, a child may be more standoffish with adults. While, at the other end, a child may not understand boundaries and not be able to perceive a danger or an unsafe situation. Understand your child’s strengths and use that information to help frame what is safe, what is unsafe, and how to communicate that help is needed.
Physical Signs of Sexual Abuse:
Protecting Your Child:
Behavioral Signs of Sexual Abuse:
If your child discloses abuse to you, you are not alone. There are people ready to help you and your child immediately. These organizations are ready to help you to take the steps to insure that your child is safe.
Children should not be forced to kiss or hug family members if they don’t feel like it, even though these are harmless touches. Forcing a child to kiss and hug people when they don’t want to sends a subtle and dangerous message that they are not in control of their own bodies and that adults hold all the power.
Remind your child that no one should touch or look at their private parts, except you, their Grown-Up Buddies or a doctor only when they are in pain or feel that something may be wrong. Encourage your child to tell you or their Grown-Up Buddy about any touch that makes them feel unsafe and to keep telling until they are heard and helped.
Be your child’s voice. Speak up if you think something is wrong. Protect your child. Ask caregivers questions about how they insure that child’s safety? Ask specifically about bathroom practices with the caregiver if your child requires that level of support and assistance.
Reporting Abuse: Only 3 percent of sexual abuse cases involving people with disabilities are ever reported, so it is important to report the abuse if you suspect your child is being harmed. Reporting is simple and confidential. Even if you do not have all of the information about your child’s case, you can still report abuse.