When my daughter was first diagnosed with autism, a nurse told me a story that sticks with me like a bad penny. Nurse Sally was working for a cluster of group homes run by a nationwide charity. One day at a staff meeting it was revealed that one of the male residents had sexually assaulted one of the female residents. Nurse Sally was shocked and questioned if the authorities had been notified. The staff dismissed Sally’s question by saying “you do not want to go there…” and began brainstorming on ways to get this male resident a date.
At the time of this story, my daughter was four, non verbal and looked like JonBenét Ramsey who was all over my tv at the time. She was also an expert escape artists and had, like many autistic kids, no fear. The few times she did escape over the next few years, paramedics checked for signs of assault as part of their routine examination. Her experiences with emergency medical personnel seemed to leave a good impression with her because for years she would drag me by the hand to go into fire stations so she could sit in the back of an ambulance.
When you have a kid with a disability, you have to accept that there are strangers who share very intimate moments with your kids. Moments where maybe a parent should be present but for a variety of reasons (like we do have to work sometimes) aren’t.
Today, my daughter doesn’t need assistance with her ADL’s (activities of daily living) but she does need reminders to brush her teeth, put on deodorant and she has sensory issues that make thorough hair bushing impossible without physical assistance. So she does have staff in her personal space. Sometimes this staff is a trusted friend, sometimes this staff is someone she has never met before. As much as I loved the Medicaid aides who helped me to care for her over the years, I would discreetly do a body check when they brought her home from an outing. To this day I make it a point to swim once a week with her and before our post swim shower, I look at her—look for a bruise, a scratch…anything.
Over the years, I’ve meet many parents of kids with autism and other developmental delays. We all have concerns for our children’s physical safety. Two times I have heard concrete stories of sexual exploitation, both times involved boys. One of the predators was an aide who worked at the boy’s home. The mother had the conviction to follow through with a lengthy and emotionally draining court battle. The other case involved a woman who was working in the school district as a classroom aide for a different young boy. She had been previously convicted for exploiting an underaged relative. How she got a job within the school district remains a mystery.
It seems like these abusers, people who worked for such vulnerable people, are the worst of the worst.
So many people feel that having to consider another takes something away from them. They treat their actual job as a vocation. Lately we are hearing a lot from folks at the other end of the abuser spectrum, those folks who forgot that because they are in a position of power, not only are they a voice of authority, they are also caregivers.
I’m thrilled beyond thrilled that people in power are now being named for the abuses of position. Like many women, when this country (or maybe Russia) elected Trump we felt the hatred so many, of either gender, have toward women. We felt the nasty backlash of those people who feel like they lost their power. People who feel that they they are only in control if they feel powerful.
If I have learned only one thing parenting an individual with autism it’s that we don’t do anything in a bubble. We need each other.
I don’t see the people who abused those autistic boys all those years ago much different than the (for now) men being called out for subjecting (for now) women. Their motives and methods may have been very different but their sickness is the same.