Specialist Explains Personal Safety for Children

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WESLACO – Assaults against children are a serious problem, according to the Texas Children’s Advocacy Center.

In one day, 185 Texas children will be victims of abuse. In a year, more than 65,000 cases of child abuse will be confirmed in the state.

One in four girls is sexually abused before her 18th birthday; one in six boys is sexually abused before his 18th birthday.

No data exists currently for the number of abuse cases among children with autism. CHANNEL 5 NEWS researched, called several local, state and federal agencies but didn’t get any results.

No database tracks any type of assaults, physical or sexual, specifically for children with autism.

The problem does exist and it does happen and there are ways to teach children with autism about personal safety.

Parents of children with autism find certain aspects of raising a child challenging.

“I was told he’ll never talk, he will never be able to live on his own,” Letty Padilla said. “Always need to be medicated…that’s it. Just take him home. It was devastating.”

Padilla’s son, Gerardo, was 2 years old when he was diagnosed with autism.

“At first, I was in denial. No, he’s going to be fine. The doctor doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” she said.

She said from that moment on, their lives changed forever. A lot of therapy and learning followed. Padilla said one of her biggest concerns was Gerardo’s personal safety.

“What if somebody does something to him? He can’t talk to me, he can’t tell me,” she said.

Padilla turned to support groups, organizations and schools for help. She attended autism workshops at the Region One Education Service Center for parents and educators.

At the workshop, they learned strategies and techniques that’ll help them better instruct children in a way they can understand.

Some of them are as follows:

  • Social skills training

  • Role playing

  • Safe and unsafe situations using pictures

These learning tools provide children with autism a way to communicate.

We met with Weslaco ISD licensed specialist in school psychology, Abbie Munoz. She explained when teaching children with autism the message has to be simple, direct and short. She said repeating it drives the message home. Pictures are especially helpful for those children who are nonverbal.

“They have a series of pictures where they can depict pain, depict feelings, wants and needs. So if they can’t verbally communicate, they can still communicate in other ways. With pictures… they can hand a picture to mom, dad or a teacher,” Munoz explained. “Parents really are the first line of defense for the protection of their children.”

Munoz said the earlier parents start teaching personal safety the better.

“I think parents need to create boundaries, physical boundaries,” she said. “You can’t leave the front yard. No one can touch you in the boundary area… boundaries are very important.”

Munoz showed us pictures she uses with children explaining good touching and bad touching. Areas highlighted in red are off limits.

Padilla said she used what she learned and created her own lessons.

“If he’s going to have to rely on someone to bathe him, then that increases the chances of someone violating him,” Padilla said.

She created a step-by-step guide of what to do in the shower.

“I put numbers next to it so that I could call and ask what number are you on. It was 10 steps depending on what number he was on. I knew what he was doing, I didn’t want to physically go in there to check on him,” the mother said.

The experts said going over simple drills also helps children handle any dangerous situation that comes their way.

“Pop quiz in the car, on the way to school. What if so and so happens? What if so and so tells you to do this? What if someone touches you here? What do you do?” Munoz said.

Munoz added breaking the message down into simple steps also helps.

“One - stop and yell no. Number two, runaway. Number three, go ask for help,” she said.

Educators said each of the steps will help protect all children.

Padilla agreed and said everything she learned gives her some comfort and some peace of mind.

Today, her son is 22 and he talks, makes his own bed and even does the dishes.

Parents and educators agree that there are no guarantees that exist when it comes to keeping a child safe. But knowing some skills will better prepare them to handle any situation that comes their way.

Parents can learn all about personal safety techniques and strategies by calling their school district. They can ask to be connected to the special education department to find out what assistance they can provide.

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