Is my Autistic son being sexually abused at school?


Dear Stop It Now!,

My child has autism and I need info to see if he has been sexually abused at school.  

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Dear Concerned Parent,

A parent of a child with developmental disabilities can face challenges regarding their child’s safety in ways that are different from other parents. It is sometimes difficult to sort out signs of sexual abuse from typical autism behaviors, such as repetitive gestures and unusual body postures.  I want to address some specific steps you can take, but please look at our online tip sheets For Parents of Children with Disabilities.

Describe Your Concerns 
What are you seeing that has you concerned about your son’s safety? Look over the Warning Signs in Children and Adolescents of Possible Child Sexual Abuse. While these warning signs are not specific to children with autism, I would ask you to look these over and to note especially any new behaviors, behaviors that are occurring with increasing frequency and/or appear to be more sexualized. Please note that changes in routines, which can include things like new teachers, a classmate out sick or a new lunch time may prompt new behaviors to “pop up” however any new behaviors resulting from structure change in the child’s life should settle down in time.

Work with Your Team
If you are seeing any changes in the types of behaviors or in the frequency of the behaviors, it’s important to check in with your child’s physician and anyone else that is a part of your child’s care and education team. Work together to identify any possible causes for behavior changes. For example, changes in toileting or hygiene may be connected to puberty changes, which may be difficult to understand. Together your team can work to find out the reasons for your child’s changes in behaviors.

I understand that you may have a concern about abuse in the school setting, and this actually highlights the need for you to bring in all of the professionals working with your son so that everyone is made aware of what the concerns are.  Additionally, everyone can share observations about the behaviors – where are they happening, how often are they occurring, what is the environment like when the behaviors are occurring and similar questions to help raise understanding.

School Environment
I am curious why you are concerned about sexual abuse in your son’s school.  Are you seeing Behaviors to Watch for When Adults Are With Children and Signs That an Adult May Be At-Risk to Harm a Child?  Are there other environmental factors that are adding to your concerns? Know that it is OK to ask questions of administrative staff if something does not seem right and to seek out assistance if needed. 

Are you comfortable with the school’s policies about safety, and especially related to providing a safe educational environment for children with disabilities? Our prevention tip sheet: Nine Questions Parents Need to Ask When Selecting a Program for their Child  can help you become more familiar with what you need to know to feel secure about your child’s environment.

I hope this information is helpful, and that your son is safe and continues to be safe.

Take care,
Stop It Now!


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Last edited on: May 7th, 2021