No parent wants to think about this subject.
But it is essential to realize that abuse happens.
The statistics are concerning. The majority of abuse continues to happen in the same locations as for neurotypical kids: the child’s home, relative’s homes, and the homes of family friends. But because autistic children also attend educational, social, and recreational programs, they are exposed to greater risks when they require assistance for dressing and toileting in these situations. Add in their often limited ability to communicate in ways that can support an accusation, and everyone working and living with autistic kids has a lot of concern for these children.
My readers know that I recently wrote a book on toilet training autistic children: The Practical Guide to Toilet Training the Autistic Child. This book was written because there did not seem to be a great book that recognized the sensory and motor components of toileting. They were all about behavior charts and reward systems. Even the ones written by other occupational therapists.
They missed the boat completely.
Feeling urgency, going into to the bathroom, removing clothing effectively, eliminating in the right location, and then wiping and washing are ALL sensory-motor skills with behavioral components. Agreeing to do these tasks once you have mastered them is behavioral. But you can’t get to that point without having some skills.
The most common strategy offered to reduce an autistic child’s risk of sexual abuse is to build their communication skills so they can reject contact and report abuse once it happens. The assumption is that potential abusers will choose a less-skilled child for victimization. This would be a great strategy if communication skills were faster and easier to build. A diagnosis of autism includes difficulties with communication. Even if a child has language, they tend to struggle with pragmatics and meaning. This results in choppy timelines, limited ability to sequence events, and a skewed perspective with inconsistent content. These kids often cannot explain what happened to them. This is not missed by potential abusers.
The better choice is to build their dressing and toileting independence.
When an autistic child, including a largely non-verbal child, does not need ANY assistance for dressing and toileting, they won’t be undressed and alone in an enclosed space with ANY adult.
My book goes into great detail about how to teach dressing skills as well as teaching toileting skills. I aim for full independence, including independent toileting in public spaces. I support parents and professionals to handle their own frustration and confusion without breaking. Toileting is more than an ADL skill. It is an essential piece of armor to protect these kids. Expecting that there will never be a clever predator around a child is to ignore the ways these awful people can fool supervisors and systems. The child that is independent will be safer every single day.
There is nothing more important than a child’s safety.
It is worth the effort to get an autistic child dressing and toileting completely independently as soon as possible.
My book makes it easier to do both!