Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health and Safety Guide
ASERT has compiled resources for those with autism and those who care for people with autism relating to the current COVID-19 outbreak.
These resources, part of the Be Safe Resource collection, provides general information about how to prevent sexual abuse and assault for caregivers. These resources are specifically designed for caregivers and focus on: talking to children about puberty, sex and sexuality, teaching community safety skills, teaching sexual health and safety, institutional abuse, and grooming.
Children with autism often don’t get the chance to learn about puberty, sex and sexuality, but these are important topics to help them develop healthy relationships and prevent abuse. Tips to talk about puberty and sexuality include:
It’s never too early or late to begin sex education with kids. The earlier you start talking about these topics, the more comfortable they will be talking about sex, puberty and sexuality. Talk regularly and keep the communication open whenever they have questions.
Think about puberty as another stage in growing up. Children need to understand the physical, social, and emotional changes that occur during puberty.
You are the main educator of sex, sexuality and puberty for your child. It’s important to discuss these topics, even if you’re not comfortable. Be as open and honest as possible while being developmentally appropriate. If you don’t talk to your children about these topics, they’ll learn from wherever they can- other kids, TV, movies or the internet, and may not get accurate and appropriate information.
Make sure that your kids feel comfortable asking you questions. You can use informational books or guides to help facilitate discussions if you’re not sure what to say. Do a quick search on the internet, or head to your local library to find lots of great resources.
Find out what your children already know or believe about sexuality. Correct any myths that your child may believe about puberty or sex.
Answer questions in a simple and direct way, using a positive tone. Don’t be ashamed to answer the “embarrassing” questions. Keep your voice matter-of-fact, calm, and non-judgmental – it keeps the child from feeling guilty or embarrassed.
Use correct terms when talking about body parts or when talking about safe sex. Use images, icons, and pictures to explain and teach concepts as needed.
Discuss what can be done in private (masturbation) and in public when other people are around (hugging).
Parts of the body covered by bathing suits
Talk about sexuality and make specific rules around sexual health.
Use correct terms when talking about body parts (vagina, penis, etc).
Explain safe sex practices and what happens when safe sex practices are not followed.
Talk about dating, what a healthy relationship looks like, and what are appropriate vs inappropriate behaviors in relationships.
Discuss what can be done in private (masturbation), and public when other people are around (hugging with permission). Knowing these boundaries can keep adults with disabilities from getting into trouble.
Discuss what sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional harassment is, what it may look like, and what to do if it happens.
Some helpful resources to help facilitate these conversations include:
To prevent sexual abuse, it’s important to teach community safety skills so individuals are able to recognize what safe and unsafe environments look like.
Make Outings a Learning Opportunity
Help them learn to be comfortable traveling in the community and how to seek out information from trusted people (caregivers, people in uniform)
Institutional abuse is when a child or adult who is under the care of an organization is abused (emotionally, physically, or sexually).
This type of abuse is unique in that it occurs by programs and organizations, or their staff, who have been trusted to care for individuals.
Examples of institutions may include, but are not limited to:
This type of abuse occurs when there is poor or inadequate standards of care, poor practices by staff and inappropriate oversight or management of the services.
Overt Abuse: Any form of abuse by an employee, guardian, or foster parent against a person under the care of that institution or organization. This includes, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.
Program Abuse: When an institution or organization operates below acceptable conditions or misuses its power or responsibility in order to change behavior.
System Abuse: When an entire care system is stretched beyond capacity, and causes maltreatment or abuse as a result of inadequate resources.
Do an internet search and add keywords like abuse or neglect. Talk with others whose family members received services through the organization.
Keep in regular contact with the person. While there may be limits to information that can be shared due to confidentiality, you should be able to have contact with them and make sure they feel safe and comfortable.
If the institution cuts off all contact with parents or caregivers, regardless of the reason, this is cause for concern.
Ask to make sure they do thorough background checks on staff, have a child protection policy in place and how they handle abuse allegations.
Know the warning signs of abuse, neglect and institutional abuse.
If you suspect abuse or neglect, be sure to report if to the proper authorities. For more information on reporting abuse, see the Mandated Reporter resource.
Grooming is a process used to gain a child’s trust in order to sexually exploit the child. Grooming is often very carefully planned and can take place over weeks, months or even years. The focus of grooming is to get the child to think that sex or sexual contact with the offender is normal, or that they have no choice.
The grooming process can take years to reach the stage of sexual abuse, and may take place across settings such as:
Grooming can be difficult to identify, because it often mimics genuinely positive relationships between an adult and child. Grooming can leave victims unsure of who to trust, even people who seem to be nice and care about them.
The following behaviors may be used during the grooming process:
|Talking to Children About Puberty, Sex and Sexuality||Importance of talking about puberty, sex and sexuality||Download file: Talking to Children About Puberty, Sex and Sexuality|
|Teaching Sexual Health and Safety||Importance of teaching sexual health and safety||Download file: Teaching Sexual Health and Safety|
|Institutional Abuse||What is institutional abuse and warning signs||Download file: Institutional Abuse|
|Grooming||What is grooming and warning signs||Download file: Grooming|
|Teaching Community Safety Skills||Importance of teaching community safety skills to children||Download file: Teaching Community Safety Skills|
This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.