Home > Monday Minute > Monday Minute: Talking With Your Special Needs Child About Sexual Predators

Monday Minute: Talking With Your Special Needs Child About Sexual Predators

There’s no point in trying to make a cute or witty title out of this one – the discussion itself is too serious and frankly enough to make my stomach turn. For those of you who don’t live in NYC, the inspiration behind my conversation with James this morning stems from a recent incident at a nearby school (just a few blocks away from us). Apparently, the para of a disabled child was indicted of sexual abuse at a public school that is not only thought of as “one of the best on the UWS,” but was one on our very short list of schools we wanted James to attend when moving here several years ago (it didn’t work out mainly because we couldn’t afford to live in the zoned neighborhood at the time).

When I read the article in the newspaper this weekend I was surprised at the vehemence of my reaction. But then again, this situation has been in my nightmares for the last decade. It is only by the grace of God that we ended up with an amazing, supportive para for James who is 100% trustworthy and a mother herself, instead of the para at PS 87 who apparently took advantage of his disabled charge on multiple occasions.

Because James tends to dwell on personal conversations, repeat private and/or inappropriate information to strangers, and worry about everything, we have been very hesitant to discuss sexual predators (or other sex topics) with him up until now. Not only that, but James is rarely away from us with the exception of a few trusted family members and his para at school. And, if I’m being 100% honest, the conversation is incredibly uncomfortable on a good day.

But this morning I felt compelled to speak with James on the way to school, after dwelling about the “closeness” of the incident all weekend. I’ve said it a thousand times but have never meant it more – James is a walking bullseye. He is friendly, trusting and obedient. He doesn’t recognize behavior that will get him into trouble if everyone is smiling and he responds very well to positive reinforcement. He does what everybody says, from his parents all the way down to toddlers at the playground. He is the child who will sit out at recess to keep a “friend” company or who will believe an adult when they tell him they know “a fun game.”

I thought about how to broach the subject but decided to wing it and let him lead a bit, because as I’ve learned with James sometimes the best plan is no plan at all.

———————————————–

James’s responses are in italics, mine are in bold.

Hey did you know that Alex is going to be in a Kitty Fritters commercial?

Guess what, I heard something bad on the news this weekend.

What?

A bad teacher hurt a student at another school.

A teacher injured a student?

Kind of, a really bad one. You know if a teacher ever scared you or hurt you to tell mom or dad, right?

Some bad teachers are really loud and bossy.

Some bad teachers tell you to do bad things or keep secrets. If a teacher ever tells you not to tell or to keep a secret you still have to tell your mom and dad, okay? Or if a teacher ever does something to you that makes you feel bad or touches you anywhere you need to tell us.

That bad teacher hurt a student, right mom?

Do you understand what I’m saying? Nobody can touch you in private places except for mom, dad and the doctor. Nobody.

Not my sister or brother, right?

Right, not them or anybody else. No teachers, or other adults, or friends, nobody. Those are your private parts. You tell someone if that happens.

Like if someone tortures me?

Tortures you?

Yeah, like a bully?

Kind of.

Torture, intimidate, gossip and annoy.

What??

Those are the four things that bullies do.

Where in the world did you learn that?

In a book I am reading at school.

Wow. Well, those are good things to tell about too, but this is kind of different. Even if you are not annoyed or mad or scared, you still have to tell mom or dad if anyone ever touches your private parts or tells you to keep secrets.

If someone hurts you you have to tell dad. Will you tell dad?

I sure will. Or I could tell a police officer.

Good one, mom! police officers can be very helpful!

okay, so you understand? Let’s talk about the rest of our day. Are you excited to see Daniel at music tonight?

Daniel never hurts anyone. He is always nice. I will not let that bad teacher hurt my brother or sister or you guys. I will protect my family.

Okay, James, but make sure you also remember to tell us if anything happens.

I can’t believe that bad teacher hurt the boy!

Well, he was very sneaky and the boy didn’t tell anyone right away, but you need to tell right away if something happens – it is very important.

Like telling on a bully if they torture you.

Right. How do you deal with bullies?

By making friends.

Not always, you should check with us first. So let’s add some more items to your bully list – intimidate, torture, gossip, annoy, touch, give you gifts, ask you to go somewhere with them or ask you to keep secrets.

Um, that’s a long list.

I know, maybe we can talk about it again another day to make sure you remember.

How to fight the bad guys?

No, not fight them, but how to make sure you never lose to bad guys.

————————————————————-

I’m certainly not saying that this is the approach for everyone or that James even understood half of it, but I plan on bringing it up again casually every so often, and each and every time we start with a new school, program or para. If you haven’t had this talk yet – especially if you have a special needs child like James – I highly recommend reconsidering. It will be a while before the sick feeling in my stomach disappears when I think about how easily James could be the child at that school and the para could have been assigned to him. 

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