My daughter is lucky enough to have many wonderful friends, all of whom I love like they were my own. Today one of them was over and she, Anna and David were playing in the above-ground pool. They were having a fine time, splashing, laughing and dunking each other. David sometimes gets a bit over-exuberant and I have to remind him not to splash too much or dunk too long.
Somewhere in all the horsing around, David needed to be pulled aside by me and threatened with being taken out of the pool because he was jumping on the girls and wouldn't stop. This is not a huge thing, but as a child with autism, it's hard for him to know when he's going too far or overdoing something, and redirection and correction need to happen or he'll never learn.
It was in the middle of that when Anna chimed in with "Oh, and he put his hand down ---'s swimsuit."
I asked for clarification. He deliberately pulled the swimsuit out and put a hand down in? Or did it happen while he was jumping and splashing and dunking?
While he was jumping and splashing. For a split-second.
"And I told him to stop being a perv!" Anna's friend interjected, laughing.
I had to take a moment to be absolutely sure this was addressed and addressed with the full gravity of the situation at the forefront.
The fact is, David most likely accidentally put his hand down her suit. This is not something David does, and if for some reason it is suddenly something David wants to do, I am equally sure that he had no idea that this was morally wrong or had any sexual connotations.
David doesn't have sexual connotations. At least, not yet. He's nine, he's autistic, and stuff like that flies right over his head, thank God.
So two things had to happen, and immediately.
1. I had to address David, firmly and with as much ringing authority and threat of dire consequences as possible so that he is rock-solid irrevocably sure that we never, EVER, under any circumstances put our hands inside someone else's clothing. EVER. And if it happens by accident, we apologize immediately and do our best to never let that happen again. By the time I was done, and he had repeated it back numerous times (and we went over it again at bedtime to reinforce), I am reasonably sure that this will never again be an issue.
2. I had to address Anna and her friend, and this had to be done very, very delicately. On the one hand, if David is doing something inappropriate to one of Anna's friends and it is making them uncomfortable, I want to be told immediately and they should always tell. Always. I made that as clear as possible. No one should ever feel that way under my roof or around one of my children.
Then I had to address their summation of the situation. David got over-exuberant, and in doing so he accidentally grabbed ----'s suit, and his hand slipped inside. It was momentary. He didn't feel around, he didn't grab anything. He didn't make a crude remark. The girls both agreed that he had no idea he'd even done it.
I looked at Anna. "But you just told me that he put his hand inside her suit."
"He did. It was an accident, but he did."
I looked at her friend. "And you just called him a perv."
"I was joking." She said sheepishly.
"I understand that," I said to both of them. But think of how it sounds. Two young girls, a boy who's accused of doing something that could be termed molestation under other circumstances, and you're calling him a perv out loud. If there were other people here, or nearby, someone could have a very different idea about David. Do you understand?"
I think it was starting to dawn on them. "And as David gets older, people are going to be a lot more wary of him, and a lot more likely to jump to conclusions based on something like that. Do you think David could defend himself, if he's accused of something horrible like that? Could he make them understand he was only playing around with his sister and a friend?"
"Probably not," the girls agreed.
"And did you also think that if you make a big deal out of it, and call him a funny name like 'perv', he might just do it again, for the attention? That's not something I want happening again, do you?" I turned to her friend. "And I know your mother wouldn't be comfortable with that scenario."
They both realized how simple things like poorly timed actions coupled with poor impulse control and poorly chosen words can lead to a disaster scenario, at least in the world of Planet Autism.
I'll always do my part to make sure they're all safe under my roof, from every threat to safety or peace of mind, but I need them to help me help David help himself, at least until he's old enough to have had this so drilled in that it becomes a norm.
This is the education part of having a child with autism. It's not always an easy or comfortable conversation to have, but some things are not better left unsaid.
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