Protecting Children from Abuse - 3 Simple Strategies to Keep Kids with Autism Safe

Protecting Children from Abuse – 3 Simple Strategies to Keep Kids with Autism Safe

November is Child Safety Protection month but why wait until then? Isn’t protecting our children something we should be doing every month, every day, every moment? If you are a parent, I expect that your head is nodding up and down in agreement. And, if you are a parent of a child on the autism spectrum I trust you will read this blog entry very carefully. Young children, especially children with special needs, depend on us to protect them yet rely on us to teach them how to protect themselves.

As parents, there are many ways we try to achieve this goal of keeping our children safe. We do our best to provide them with safety equipment of all types. We expose them to information and training that will give them the tools to protect themselves, such as teaching our children to swim. And we supervise our children and try to be there for them when they need us. Unfortunately, we cannot have them within our sight 24-7, especially as they grow and venture into the world towards independence.

There are many nightmares a parent can conjure up in their mind to worry about. The possibility of natural disasters, abduction, and accidents can consume our thoughts if we let them. But having our children fall victim to sexual abuse at the hands of another adult may be one of the worse case scenarios we can allow ourselves to think about. Is it possible to make our children abuse proof – resistant to the enticements of a perpetrator? I say, yes!

In addition to all the quick and easy “stranger danger” tips we so easily dole out what more can a parent do? Regardless of our child’s strengths and weaknesses, we can only control so much of what will happen to our children YET we can equip them with some of the most powerful weapons available – knowledge, information and a strong and positive sense of self.

Giving them the message that their body belongs to them and encouraging them never to keep secrets is a good place to start but there are countless other things we can do to protect our children from this heinous crime. And guess what? You may be using many of these strategies already and you probably began doing this at a very early age. True protection does not lie in learning how to fight back or never letting our children out of our sight. True protection lies in creating a child that is internally resistant, a child whose inner strength will make him less vulnerable to the crafty approaches of a child molester.

Here are some suggestions that may seem simplistic but we often don’t realize how powerful they are in keeping our children safe:

1 – Help your child acquire a capable sense of self. Children who appear capable are less likely to be targeted by individuals who prey upon children. These individuals are searching for those who are vulnerable, those who seem helpless. Helping our children become independent is our job and the sooner we nurture appropriate independence the better. As we teach our sons and daughters to do things for themselves rather than do it for them, their confidence grows. Don’t ever hesitate to help your child master a new task if you think they are ready, the feeling of” I can do it myself” is extremely potent and will serve as one more layer of protection.

2 – Strive to enhance your child’s assertiveness skills. Learning how to be appropriately assertive rather than aggressive or passive is one of the best gifts we can give our children. Individuals who seek out children for their own distorted purposes are counting on them to be passive and will not spend time grooming a child who is likely to speak up for herself. We can begin this process at the early age of two or even before when our little cherubs take their first step towards assertion by discovering the word “no”. This simple word contains much power and could be the one thing that keeps them safe. In addition to words, remember body language and encourage your child to look at the color of a person’s eyes when talking to them because it will make them appear confident and self-assured.

3 – Make sure your child knows what a healthy relationship is. Our children must have an accurate sense of what constitutes a healthy relationship in order to have proper instinctual knowledge – a gut feeling – of what is normal. Perpetrators spend a lot of their time trying to convince children that “this is what people do when they care about each another” and their success depends upon their attempts to normalize the invasive behaviors they use to set up their potential victims. Make sure your child knows that healthy relationships with adults don’t require keeping secrets, uncomfortable touch and intimate remarks. Normal does not mean constant enticement with gifts, atypical attention and special favors either.

Our job must go beyond role modeling healthy relationships to talking about it with our children, honestly, specifically and often. When our children are grounded in what a healthy relationship looks like, sounds like and feels like, we are not only providing them with strong armor that will shield them from possible harm but important knowledge that will reap many positive benefits in all aspects of their life for years to come.

Providing a child on the autism spectrum with the skills necessary to protect him or herself from such an experience can be very challenging because the brain wiring required to read social cues is often off the mark. Fortunately, the brain’s plasticity makes it possible to rewire it if given the patience, guidance and repetition it calls for. For more information on strengthening your child’s social skill toolbox you can check out one of my previous blogs, Turning Common Interactions into Meaningful Social Skill Lessons for a Child with Autism.

Imagine less worries and concerns as a parent of a child on the Autism spectrum… and more happiness and joyful times as a family. That’s what you get when you have the support of Connie Hammer, expert parent educator and coach. For more than twenty years, this licensed social worker has worked with families to create opportunities that open possibilities for more love, more fun and more contentment, regardless of disability. To find out how she can help you take your parenting to the next level visit her website at or sign up for her free ecourse, Parenting a Child with Autism, 3 Secrets to Thrive.

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