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Most of these tips have been sent in by Punya Robertson, who has worked for many years as a protective behaviour educator with children with disabilities. We are very grateful to Punya for sharing her ideas, and we would really love to hear your own.
Public & private
Teach the difference between public & private. This can be body parts, places, clothing, behaviours & communication. If you do this at an early age, people can learn this important difference before puberty.
Teaching public and private
Useful publication from the Canadian Down Syndrome Society explaining ways of teaching / reinforcing public and private Explaining Privacy
Take it somewhere private
If someone you are caring for starts to discuss a private activity in public, interrupt or move to a more private area, so you are modelling where to have these sorts of conversations.
When bathing, label the body part and whether it is public or private. Use anatomically correct names for genitals.
Public private activities
When putting clothing away, talk about the activity – for eg underwear gets put in the drawer private clothes go in. This is where you coat hangs up. 'You wear that when we go out in public.'
Fold a piece of A4 paper lengthwise and staple/glue the outside edges. On one side, draw a door & cut it so it flaps and can be open and shut. Write 'Private' on the door. Open the flap & inside paste images of private body parts/clothing/places (eg toilet). Then close the door so it's private.
The core message about touch is your body belongs to you. Nobody can touch your body without your consent. You choose who you can share your body with.
Touching private body parts
Any touching of private body parts can be either redirected to a private place or interrupted because this is a public place.
Comfortable & uncomfortable
Talk about 'comfortable' and 'uncomfortable' types of touch. 'When you give me a hug I feel really loved & comfortable.' 'Kicking hurts & I feel unsafe & uncomfortable when it happens.'
Talk about how touch can start off feeling comfortable, then can become uncomfortable. For eg 'When you were wrestling with your brother you felt safe until he was rough & then you felt uncomfortable.'
The language of feelings
Children need to learn the name for emotions. Use moments to teach. Say things like, 'I saw you were angry when I said you had to put your toys away.' 'That big dog gave you a fright, didn't it?' 'You have a very happy face.' This teaches children the language of feelings.
Ban 'good'& 'bad'
Link the feeling to 'comfortable' or 'uncomfortable' rather than good/bad. Using 'good' or 'bad' may make the child feel they are bad if they have an uncomfortable feeling. Being able to identify if you feel uncomfortable is an important protective behaviour. eg 'You looked really uncomfortable when that dog barked. Did it give you a fright?'
We ask people with disabilities to sit quietly and allow their bodies to be touched by strangers a lot ... doctors, therapists, aides, care assistants, etc. This leaves them vulnerable to abuse. Teach about 'business touch' eg 'It is the business of the doctor to touch your foot and help it grow straighter.'
Early warning signs
Teach early warning signs. Observe children when they feel unsafe. Model & give them words to describe these feelings. eg 'My knees go like jelly' when afraid of a dog. 'I feel uncomfortable when it barks.' 'It makes my heart beat fast.' Use a simple drawing to teach butterflies in your stomach or shaking hands.
The circle concept is an excellent social sexual visual aid to teach about relationships & protective education. Here is a link: Circle concept
Me circle can be taught using hoops and not bumping into other people. If you do bump circles you have to apologise. When people stand too close, you can say 'You are in my me circle & it feels uncomfortable.'
Explain what you're doing
Explain to people what you are doing when you have to apply medical ointment/creams to their genitals or clean them when they are soiled. This is an excellent time to talk about private & who can touch, & why the touching is happening.
Whenever possible, & from a young age, encourage independence in wiping/cleaning after going to the toilet & when bathing/drying. If they need help, put your hand over theirs while they do the wiping/drying/cleaning. Tell them you are doing this because their body belongs to them.
Speak the unspoken rules
There are unspoken social rules we all follow, which need to be spoken when you have a child with special needs. For eg, in public changing areas, we generally face the wall when getting changed & hide the front of our bodies. We cover ourselves with towels & dress quickly.
The 5 'No's'
Teach people about the different 'No's' we use in daily living by drawing them in different sizes with an emotional face to go with them. 1st 'No' has a smiley face & can be used when a puppy jumps up. 2nd 'No' is good manners. It has a friendly face & can be used when someone offers a cup of tea we don't want. 3rd 'No' is assertive, with straight line smile. I use it when my child wants a cookie before dinner. 4th 'No' is angry, when someone has done something I don't like. 5th 'No' is emergency when something dangerous is happening.
Use the right 'No' yourself
When interacting, observe & point out if people are using the correct 'No' for the situation. Watch your own 'No's' & make sure they are appropriate. Model the correct 'No' for the situation.
Safe vs unsafe
Teach concept of 'safe' vs 'unsafe'. Use teachable moments, for eg 'This snuggely bed makes me feel safe.' 'That broken glass looks unsafe.' Use pictures for eg house on fire vs warm cosy fire. Always remember to include 'unsure' in these conversations as that middle point has to be captured. Safe can turn into unsafe.
Identify safe places
Help people identify their own safe places. Do not assume that the safe place you identify with will be the same as theirs. eg It may be logical to you as a parent to tell your child to go to the staff room if they are being bullied. But a room full of teachers may be terrifying to your child.
The Aspie Girl's Guide to Being Safe with Men
Aspie girls and women are incredibly vulnerable to having bad sexual experiences with men, whether or not they are interested in pursuing dating and sexual relationships. Debi Brown writes from personal experience to help other Aspie girls and women avoid common pitfalls and potentially dangerous situations. Aspie Girl's Guide to Being Safe with Men
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