Note: Apologies for the tardiness with this post. My website has been undergoing some upgrades.
No, I am not talking birds here. I am talking about parents, professionals and society burying their head in the sand when it comes to sexuality of mentally challenged.
April is Autism Awareness Month. I and a couple of other autism moms are doing daily posts to our Facebook about what life is REALly like for us and our children. The other day one of them was talking about mourning the fact that her son would never marry, never give her grandchildren. Now to be fair…her son is non-verbal and on the more severe end of the spectrum than my daughter.
BUT…I was immediately reminded of several stories from my youth of adults with Downs Syndrome, who were engaged in legal fights with their parents or others over the right to marry and/or have children. Some had been sterilized without their knowledge or consent by parents or doctors. Without their knowledge even.
Yet a quarter of a century later, many people with Downs are doing things that were unheard of, unthinkable then. Not just marrying and raising children but going to college, being actors/actresses/models and so much more.
I could not help but think…maybe we, our beliefs, are limiting them more than their condition. Because the truth is that those hormones and body parts do develop…whether we are ready to deal with them or not. So we had better come up with some plans…good ones too…
Let me tell you a couple of stories…a tale of two men…
I take PanKwake to the ‘disabled’ swimming as often as we can manage. The local pool has a water slid that she loves. And on those special times there are only a couple dozen or so special needs children and adults and their families/carers. It is so quiet that I can even allow her to walk up the stairs to the slide herself. These are the stories of two young men on the spectrum, whom we met there…
‘A’ is non-verbal and classically autistic with hand-flapping and zero eye contact. He is in his mid-twenties. He roams the pool on his own and generally is no problem with his dad checking up on him occasionally.
Now one night after swimming I hear his dad yelling for him. I peak my head out and he asks, ‘Is A in there?’ There being the women’s locker room…with showers and changing. I checked for him and sure enough there stood A grinning. You know me, in my non-judgmental way, I smiled and shook my head. I said, ‘I know what you’re doing, A.’ And I swear for the blink of an eye we connected…we bridged that gap…A looked me directly in the eye and we communicated. We laughed together and I gently told him that it was enough, he had to go out to his dad now. There was no way I could have made him mind you, but he willing went.
Now I know that most doctors and society believe that no one is home up there with guys like A…but I don’t agree. Even if they are right though, he is a toddler trapped in a man’s body. A body that has the same urges and needs as every other male out there. And we need to realistically address that and not put our head in the sand.
In the Netherlands, the government pays for the disabled to have sex with prostitutes. Now…suspend your moral indignation for a moment. But do you realize that mentally challenged men have been executed…for rape and murder. Is it possible that would not have been necessary if they had a positive outlet for their urges? In the words of one of my fav songs, ‘I’mma not saying it’s right or it’s wrong. But maybe it’s the only way?”
But positive sexual outlets are not just as issue for those at the severe end of the spectrum. For those verbal, intelligent Aspies sex and relationships are a minefield. B is the other man I want to tell you about. Oh my sweet goddess, ladies, if I put that one on my covers you would salivate. Seriously…eye candy does not even cover it.
Until the moment he opens his mouth…and like PanKwake it takes between two and five minutes for anyone to figure out that something is not quite right. This kid is seriously intelligent. He follows politics…one of his fixations. He has even hosted tree plantings attended by muckety-mucks of British parliament. He also has ‘restraining orders’ against him…for being a bit too…persistent with his interest in young ladies.
I almost cried the last time I saw him. He asked me…do you think I could ever have a real girlfriend? Oh, hell yeah! He would be some older single mom’s wet dream cum true. Because he is sweet, kind and intelligent. Problem is…NO ONE takes the time to explain the rules and boundaries of relationship to him. But with coaching and mentoring, he would make some lucky lady a hell of a boy toy.
But that leads me to the dilemma that I am soon to face…exploitation. It would be easy for the ‘wrong’ kind of woman to use and abuse B…taking his disability, making him think he needed to buy her things for her to like him.
And it is even more alarming as a mother of a girl on the spectrum. The statistics are horrifying on the number of teens girls and young women, who are used and abused by boys…and grown men. PanKwake is STUNNING! (And that ain’t just cause I’m her Mama either. Hard to get guns in England, but might need one if we were back home.)
She is beginning at 10 to develop secondary sex traits…body odor, hair and breasts. I started my periods at just ten and half. So for months, I have been trying to talk to her about it. Now, I have always been pretty open and two women living in a small apartment together, she is aware of what a period is. Actually, as mine have gotten more problematic with perimenopause, she has learned the words…’Don’t screw with me, Mommy has her period.’
Thing is that she is the one who wants to stick her head in the sand. Autistic people have trouble with change…more trouble would be a better way of saying it because most people do not like it. Now when she does not want to do something or hear something, she will not say ‘stop’, ‘I don’t want to talk about that’ or ‘this makes me uncomfortable.’ She says…I’m tired. She has been tried for months now…lol.
Then the other day her old carer came back to help out in a pinch. Her daughter, who is only a few months older than PanKwake, had just started her period. It was one of those moments like with A…she looked at me…this time with fright. And I knew for the first time it was real to her. We still only speak about it in a sentence or two…just to say…when it does happen don’t hide it, come to Mommy. But now…she listens.
Development, sex and relationships do not cease to exist just because someone is on the autistic spectrum. Any more than they did for those with Downs Syndrome or our disabled Veterans. And it is important not that we have all the answers, but that we have the conversation. I cannot judge my friend with her boy on the other end of the spectrum…her path is different. But we can all learn from history with other ‘disabilities’ and from our children themselves.
A huge part of Autism Acceptance that I push so hard for is seeing them as fully functional human beings.
Different Not Less…
Is true for their sexuality too. And in PanKwake’s motto…we need to learn to…