I’m posting this for parents of autistic kids, but it really applies to everyone. Just so you know why I’m posting this, I spent the morning at our local Child Advocacy Center. I am on my county social services advisory board, so I’m seeing stuff that is a little off the beaten path but very necessary for the folks that need it. A Child Advocacy Center is a place where abused children can be interviewed once instead of submitting to multiple interviews for the school, the police, the court, etc, and reliving the horrible event each time. It is a safe,comforting place, and they have the interview taped and all the team questions asked at one time with a great deal of collaboration between agencies.

What struck me most about the tour was the discussion about how many different and odd names people use to describe their private parts. While I’m not going to go into detail, I’m sure everyone reading can reflect on at least 4 euphemisms that bring a chuckle and a couple that cause alarm. We are guilty of doing the same thing in our household, although I’m not sure why. It seems to be a part of human nature that we can’t call our genitalia by their clinical names.

However, with the extremely high violent and physical abuse rates of our kids, I’m asking everyone to start teaching their kids the proper names for their body parts. Not just their genitals, but if someone hits them we need to know where as well. They overcome some of that with visual aids like dolls, but words are easier to use in a courtroom. We want to convict the people that do stuff like this, so to that end let’s give our kids the tools to do so if they are attacked.

Just so you know I’m not whistling dixie here, I’m using a Department of Justice study to back up my statements. The study, released in 2009 and based on 2007 data, found “For rape or sexual assault, the age-adjusted rate for persons with disabilities was more than twice the rate for persons without disabilities.” That rate also was greater in younger victims and gradually decreasing throughout the lifespan. People with disabilities are more likely to be victims in every category. With over an 80% incidence rate in the 12-15 and 16-19 year old categories, you should be very concerned.

It bothered me that there were no statistics for younger children, especially after hearing about sexual assault interviews with 4 and 5 year old kids at the CAC. My knee jerk reaction is to think it has something  to do with language delays and/or nonverbal folks, but I have no evidence to support that. I haven’t found a study yet that I feel paints a good picture, so for now I’m going to assume that 80% holds true down to age 3. Even if the number is higher, 80% is pretty scary all on its own.

So what do we do? Autism Now has a page with some great tools. I was also lucky enough to hear Mary Worthington speak at the 2011 Autism Society conference. She has a great curriculum for teaching this stuff, and we have used a lot of it. Here is one of her pamphlets.

For me, though, everything starts with common language. I know my son has difficulty with word find, so I try to give him the right words first. Its much harder to teach him a new word for the same thing later. We also spend a lot of time talking about being safe, not touching or being touched in your swimsuit area, and telling mom and dad if something happens that makes you uncomfortable. Will it work? Time will tell, but at least I feel we are doing what we can to help him protect himself, and that makes me feel good. Is there a danger I might hear the word “penis” screamed repeatedly in public? Sure, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.