Children with ASD may need clearly expressed information:
• that when we dress and undress we should do so in privacy, such as a bathroom or bedroom in your house (NOT a public bathroom)
• that (unless a child is still very young) it is not a good idea to sit on people's laps but to sit next to, or near to, someone instead
• (above a certain age) it is important that they sleep in their own bed
Sometimes, physical actions that we take for granted actually need to be demonstrated to, and practised with children with ASD, such as:
• how to do a shoulder-to-shoulder hug - more acceptable than a full body hug
• how to kiss someone hello or goodbye on the cheek, with mouth closed and is brief. We might touch the other person on the shoulders briefly as we do this
• how to shake a person's hand if meeting someone new
Teach children 'stranger-danger'
If anyone does, or tries to do, something to them which they do not like or they feel uncomfortable with, tell them:
• to raise the palm of their hand towards the person
• to say 'NO' loudly and firmly, or shout if necessary
• not to smile at the person
• to move away if the person persists
• to tell someone they trust - mother, father, teacher, if something they did not like has happened or they had to stop it happening
If they find it difficult to verbalise, they could write it down or draw pictures and show it to an adult with whom they feel safe.
This can apply to familiar people too. Children with ASD can be particularly vulnerable and can be prone to being taken advantage of, particularly by peers, and should be taught that it is okay for them to say a firm 'NO' if someone asks them to do something they do not want to do, to do something they do not fully understand, or something which may get them in trouble.
This strategy is something that the child could practice with an adult using role-play.
Exceptions to the rule
Children with ASD will also need to be taught that there are some times when others may want to hug them, such as during a sports match if a goal is scored or if they win a match; if they do something really well like passing a school test; or if they have done something very kind for someone.
If the child is not aware of this beforehand it could cause them some confusion as there are no written rules to go by. It is also important to note that medical professionals might need to touch them intimately, but they should always tell the individual with ASD what they need to do and ask permission first.
All sexual touch and action should be sited firmly within the context of a relationship, of whatever type, to aid understanding.
TV, Films and the Internet
It is vital that adults monitor what it is that children and teenagers with ASD are watching. If anything sexual is in the content, it will be inportant to check their understanding and correct them if they have misunderstood. Giving them an explanation of certain behaviours can also help. Imagine a film which lasts two hours; most people can understand that many months or years can elapse during that time. However, someone with ASD may believe that the characters met, went on a date, had sexual relations and got married all within a couple of hours, giving them a very different idea of how relationships develop. It is also worth explaining that most people look different from movie actors, and might behave in a way that is destined to entertain, rather than be realistic.
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