7 mins read

Autism and Sexual Harassment

I was listening to a #MeToo movement story the other day on NPR. I began to think about my son and how it relates.

My son is a teenager quickly (too quickly for me) becoming a young male adult.

A young male adult with autism.

How does his background apply here?

I remember one of my son’s first Floor Time facilitators telling me that my baby (he was only around sixteen months old) has trouble “feeling his body in space.”

I don’t think that’s the case anymore for my (now) fifteen-year-old, but it made me realize that the body of a very small child with autism is different. They feel different. They don’t feel their bodies like typical kids do of the same age.

I was very athletic, even at a small age, and could control my body very well. I understood it. I athletically learned this very quickly.

My son still has trouble throwing a baseball properly. He still looks awkward. And, he’s been “playing” for years.

Where am I going with this?

My son has taken a long time to understand his own body, let alone learn the social appropriateness that we’ve been trying to teach him for a long time.

Example?  He used to touch his private parts. A lot. For years.

It came and went, but it seemed for years teachers were contacting us about what to do with this behavior.

In addition to having a body with autism, my son might have had things behaviors because he was nervous or his clothes were uncomfortable (and he couldn’t or wouldn’t communicate that to me), or that was how he reacted to his surroundings when he was overwhelmed.

Today, I can honestly say we were never exactly sure why did it, and he’s much better now. We haven’t had a report since early last year.

Another example of our kids not being appropriate in public is from a friend of mine who said her son used to stick his finger in his nose and “dig.” Didn’t matter where he was. He’d do it no matter what.

What does all of that mean?

Appropriateness is hard to teach our kids because so many times we are working on being appropriate in an environment that naturally makes them feel uncomfortable.

Another mom told a story the other day about her son. She was getting her nails done and asked her son to sit up front and wait for her. He said he couldn’t sit up there because there was a woman already sitting there and that woman had a baby! A baby! Turns out (unbeknownst to this mother) her son was uncomfortable around babies because you have to be quiet or you’d wake them up or they’re so delicate you can’t get them sick, etc. He went on with a list of things that wouldn’t allow him to sit next to this stranger and her baby.

That story is a bit of tangent, but it still demonstrate, yet again, what parents of kids on the spectrum have to deal with. Teaching how to be appropriate and also dealing with the unpredictability of our kids is a monumental task.

We really never know what are kids are going to say… or what they’re going to do.

(Typical parents can look at Aut parents all they want to and say, “You have to teach your kids (this or that).” Sometimes I say to myself, “I’d like to see you try it.”)

What does all of this have to do with the #MeToo movement?

I believe I am raising a child who will be respectful of all people. All the time. Be fair and respectful and kind. You don’t have to love everyone, but you need to treat people with a minimum of decency.

I have a boy. I have asked him in the recent past if there has been anyone he’s been romantically interested in. For the most part, the answer was no. He did say he liked a girl once, but he kept it in his head, never approached her or anything.

So, what happens with my male child when he takes a few more steps toward that type of relationship?

I believe it will happen one day. He has expressed a desire to meet someone someday.

What happens if one of those steps goes horribly wrong? Teenagers are awkward enough with this stuff to begin with. Add in autism and add in a teenager trying to figure out what’s appropriate and what’s not.

Is there any room for such an important movement like #MeToo to see that there is a gray area when it comes to autism?

Let’s say my child gets so nervous in front of a girl that he touches his penis.

Has he crossed a line? Is it purely autism? Is it bad parenting? Does the girl report it? How can a parent such as myself explain that something like that was (most probably) not intentional?

Just like those other times when teachers reported to us that he was doing it when he was younger. He was reacting to his body being uncomfortable in some way and impulsively touched his private parts.

I guess this mother worries not only about having a boy, but about having one that even at age fifteen is still trying to figure out what is appropriate and what isn’t.

Movements like #MeToo are so important and powerful and necessary.

This mother, however, hopes 1) Nothing inappropriate never happens that involves my son, 2) If something that appeared to be inappropriate did happen, that the individual(s) would talk to my son and/or us in order to find intent (if any) behind what happened.

My fear is a reaction that accuses, without taking a step back and asking some questions. Giving an individual who struggles with social appropriateness an extra moment to explain.

A quick leap to judgement is not the friend of a child on the autism spectrum.

From one worried parent, keep in mind that very important gray area. It may mean something very important to us and to our kids. Sexual Harassment and Autism


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