Despite our role as protector, we can only control so much of what will happen to our children BUT we can equip them with the most powerful weapon of all - knowledge and information.
A parent's worst nightmares are many and having your child fall victim to sexual abuse is maybe one of the worst among them. Is it possible to make a child abuse-proof and resistant to the enticements of a perpetrator?
In addition to all the quick and easy stranger danger tips and the important information found in books and on websites - the message that their body belongs to them, encouraging them never to keep secrets, telling them to say NO - what more can a parent do?
There is a lot a parent can do in order to protect their children from this heinous crime even if a child is on the Autism spectrum and they can begin at a very early age. True protection goes beyond telling your socially challenged child not to talk to strangers - true protection lies in creating a child that is internally resistant, a child whose inner strength will make them less vulnerable to the crafty approaches of a child molester.
The following suggestions may seem simple because we automatically do them as parents but we often don't realize how powerful they are in keeping our children safe:
1 - 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 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.
Simply encouraging your child to look at the color of a person's eyes when talking to them will make them appear confident and self-assured. This may be a difficult task for most kids with Autism but it is doable if practiced persistently. The trick is to teach your child the right balance between assertiveness and aggression and still remain respectful. This is why good social skill training is important.
2 - 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 your child become independent is your job and the sooner you nurture appropriate independence the better.
As you teach your children to do things for themselves rather than do it for them, their confidence grows. Don't ever hesitate to help your child learn and master a new task if you think they are ready because the feeling of "I can do it myself" is powerful and will serve as one more layer of protection from the hands of a perpetrator.
3 - Make sure your child knows what a healthy relationship is: Your child 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 their intended victim that "this is what people do when they care about each another". Their success lies in their attempts to normalize the invasive behaviors they use to set up their potential victims.
Be very specific and make sure your child knows that a healthy relationship does NOT require keeping secrets, uncomfortable touches and insidious remarks. This will ensure that these messages fall on deaf ears. They will know that "normal" does not mean constant enticement with gifts, atypical attention, special favors or uninvited physical contact.
Your job must go beyond role modeling healthy relationships to talking about it with your children, honestly, specifically and often, until they fly from your nest. When your children are grounded in what a healthy relationship looks like, sounds like and feels like, you 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.