I DREAD opening my SPAM folder. Today I was regaled with Army Slut and Incest Porn Stories. I know times are hard, but people REALLY need to find some other occupation. That there are people who actually do this for a living (because I suspect it’s not just for FUN, right???,) totally baffles me…
And now on to my dad’s bit in this story. Yesterday, during our weekly Sunday phone call, we discussed several topics: atheism, politics, the films of Ricky Gervais, our preparations for moving and (and I quote verbatim) “how healthy is J sexually?”
How’s a nearly 49 year-old supposed to answer a nearly 84 year-old this type of question about an 18 year-old???? In my dad’s defense (and, trust me, I’ve thought this through,) he wasn’t being morbid or titillating. He was just being an imprudently curious older person because (and he’s said this many times) he has reached that age where not only doesn’t he HAVE a filter, he no longer CARES if he comes across as indiscreet, rude, whatever… So to answer the seemingly-rhetorical question asked at the beginning of this paragraph: “he’s very much a young man, Daddy. And since it’s none of my business, I don’t ask for anything other than he wash his hands regularly, keep his door closed and do his own laundry.”
Surprisingly enough, my father was totally fine with this answer. Perhaps it was because I was obviously not going to delve any deeper or wade in any farther than that. Perhaps he also remembers (though way back in the deepest recesses of his mind) that between he and my mother there was proactive lobbying for me NEVER EVER to be sexually active…period! They wanted grandchildren…eventually… I was never, ever, EVER having sex though. My children would materialize from the ether, I guess. As I was the only one among all the siblings who attended Catholic school from Nursery through 12th grade, I’m pretty sure that my atheist father was sure the moral lessons would help to drive home the idea that I would remain happily celibate (or guilt-strickenly sexually active) for the rest of my days.
And now he casually asks (meaning no harm) about J’s sexual health?
So…what is it like for an autistic 18 year-old boy? If I am being observant enough and reasonable enough, J has absolutely no problems. I’ll be honest with you: I have never preached to my children than their sexuality is anything to be ashamed of, or that there is what is “right” for each gender. I have taught them that their bodies respond to whatever stimuli they find more appealing, and that out of respect for themselves and others, they should be discreet. In a household where I’m the only female (aside from the cats, who don’t really count,) I have never had any fear of what my teenaged or adult children might be doing, but I have asked them to be healthy about what they do…
Yes, this includes J. He may be a little behind developmentally (ok, a LOT behind in some senses,) but he’s pretty much up-to-speed with the other stuff. He likes redheads. He likes blondes. He likes brunettes. He gives careful consideration to the girls on his calendar (all of them wearing tiny bathing suits, of course) and then determines whether the month is worth the tracking of days or not. We’ve seen him look closely at a scantily-clad model and then shrug with what can only be described as a “meh” attitude.
It would be easy to lean on the fact that he likes cartoons, Raggedy Ann, blowing bubbles, and other ‘very young’ things and forget that he is, well, 18 years old. The same is true of TGG. I can still see both these “boys” walking around playing like they did when they were toddlers, young children, pre-teens. I’m realistic, though…like every other human being on the planet, my sons are sexual beings…J is a sexual being, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.
Of course, as parents of disabled individuals, we have many things to worry about and this particular aspect of caring for an autistic person might be at the top of the “oh, holy crap!” list of worries. If your child is non-verbal, you worry you won’t know if someone has touched them inappropriately. The other side of that coin is the worry that someone might accuse the non-verbal individual of behaving inappropriately, and the child or young adult has no resources to defend themselves from such allegations. We tend, in simple terms, to become overprotective, and we develop a fear that something could go horribly wrong and we won’t be able to prevent it.
This is, in my humble opinion, the best approach. Have the nurse at school give your child the Sex Ed lesson one-on-one with the assistance of a trusted member of the child’s educational team. Regardless of what you think, your child’s (and I mean this as in “son”/”daughter” not young child) mind and body will start working in tandem to generate curiosity, longing, and so forth. A lot of the confusion that pre-teens and teens with autism experience is related to that war being waged by hormones in their bodies, and they are more in tune with their contemporaries’ interactions than we sometimes realize.
Look, your little girl sees Ariel sitting in a boat waiting for Prince Eric to kiss her while all the little creatures sing encouragement. Your little boy is aware that there is pleasure to be felt from touching his body; he may not have sought out that pleasure initially, but once he knows it’s there, he’s going to go looking for it again. The important thing is that we don’t work towards fostering the confusion, but rather to abating it in any way we can.
Just like we want to encourage our kids to face every day of challenges and opportunities with courage and enthusiasm, we need to make sure that they know it’s ok to be human. Sexuality is part of being human. It’s confusing enough that you take everything so literally when someone talks to you, and then your body is going to start (as it were) whispering in your ear????
If you need to, talk to your doctor so he/she can determine if your child is experiencing early signs of puberty (J did…TGG did…,) and then come up with a plan to make sure that they feel comfortable with the roiling emotions and thoughts. Freak out, yes…but privately. Be horrified, yes…but don’t transmit that to them. Rather than stomping on what Nature has put in all of us, work on teaching and encouraging proper “etiquette” to your child.
And stay out of the SPAM folder. It really is a bog of grossness some days…