May 9, 2019

The Social Plan Part Two: Rejection

Hello Everyone,

I hope you are all having a happy May.  This month's post focuses on what you and your child can do to stay positive when your friends are not able to hang out with you.  There are many reasons why your friends may not be able to commit to a hang-out plan.  Most of those reasons have nothing to do with your friends thinking you are a loser (honestly).  Sometimes they will just not to hang out; even more rarely your friend does not think of you as a friend and does not want to hang out for that reason.  That last reason is very, very uncommon.  Yet, if that is the reason why your friend does not want to hang out, well then, they are not your friend.  Unfortunately, you will rarely know the reasons behind why your friend is not able to hang-out with you.  It's not worth the stress or effort of trying to understand why.  Here are some ideas for what you can do with that mental and emotional energy instead, which will be much more helpful for you and your confidence.

April 23, 2019

The Hang Out Plan: Making Plans With Friends

Hello Everyone,

I hope you all are having a lovely April.  I am sorry for the delay of this month's post!  This month, we will be exploring how to take the next step in the friendship (or relationship process), where we move our social encounters with friends from places like school or work into our daily lives.  The handout covers how to not only make a plan to contact friends to "hang out", but how to put that plan into action.  Included are additional tips for parents as well as for readers on how to remain flexible in a social transaction that does not follow a script.  I hope you find the suggestions useful, and as always, please use, share, and comment!  Your input helps me make these better.  Please remember that this handout is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced for any purposes other than personal use.  Thank you!

March 16, 2019

Trauma Bomb Rapid Response Part Two: Balms and Salves

Hello Again Everyone,

      Thank you for stopping by again to read part two of the post on what you and your loved ones can do to provide rapid response help to your child in the immediate aftermath of a sexual abuse disclosure.   

      With damage control in mind, let's look back in history to explore what served as rapid response treatment for deep, devastating wounds, at a time when more sophisticated medical treatment was unavailable.  In ancient times, balms and salves, usually made from plant extracts, were quick remedies to help ease pain for the victim while the care teams were being assembled to get more effective treatment.  Today balms and salves still exist to help provide comfort for wounds while waiting for emergency care.  While we are not looking at traditional balms and salves as a curative for the blast of the sexual abuse trauma bomb, the concept can be hugely effective when adapted to providing your child with emotional and psychological relief from trauma of sexual abuse disclosure.  However, before we administer our balms and salves to our children, we need to stay away from BAD behavior that can happen when we are first told of the abuse.  If we as parents do not watch out for BAD behavior, then we run the risk of making the wounds of sexual abuse much worse through our crushing of the victim's remaining hope for help. We erode what remains of their self-value as a person that they connected with as a motivation to take action for themselves by getting help.  So what is BAD behavior?

BLAME: Do not blame the child for revealing their abuse to you or immediately seek someone else out to blame for the abuse.  Doing so is only destabilizing and does not provide any comfort to the child in the moment.  Blaming the child can be devastating to their remaining sense of self and contribute to deeper senses of being responsible for allowing their abuse to happen.
ANGER: Anger is a wonderful and natural emotion, however at such an emotionally volatile time as this, displaying anger can be very destabilizing to the child and to your ability to stay present and focused on providing comfort.  You are allowed to be angry and rightfully so, but be very careful how you let it out around your child.
DISMISS AND DOWNPLAY:  it's very natural to try and avoid horrible events by making them seem like they are less than what they are.  It's a very effective way at managing negative thoughts and emotions.  It's also a very effective way to guarantee that your child feels even more crushed by not being listened to or taken seriously.  By being dismissive of the trauma, you are being dismissive of the child's worth as an individual with a right to care and safety.

      When we engage in BAD behavior, we are reinforcing shame, guilt, fear and doubt.  These feelings are the tag team from heck with respect to helping the child who has been abused not only be willing to engage in the healing process but to feel safe that they have support and care to do so.  Your balms and salves will be no more effective than putting a bandaid over a severed limb unless you can engage your compassion, love, and understanding for what your child has endured when they detonate the trauma bomb.  
      So who gets balms and salves anyway?  Well, you both do!  Your child needs you to give rapid response balm treatment and you need to have a salve for yourself so you can provide care for your traumatic experience of having to learn of your child's sexual abuse.

Believe: Your child is telling you the truth no matter how horrific the trauma may sound.  Believing is the most crucial piece of the trauma recovery process.  Believing your child establishes you as their protector and ally.
Allow: Allow your child to tell you whatever they need to tell you, while being mindful of your emotional and psychological reaction.  Doing so sends a message of safety and promise that they can trust you to be there through the whole trauma process.
Love: Assure your child of your unconditional love and how much you value them.  Doing so is critical to your child's ability to seeing themselves as not being a worthless or less of a person.  Loving your child will help them re-establish love for themselves as they have a purpose to challenge self-loathing.
Make space: This is a hard one, but really important.  Your child may not be ready to tell you everything about the abuse; they may not be able to depending on the depth of the trauma and how they have held it up to now.  Give your child space to work on how they want to approach disclosing further information about the trauma.  Give your child space to work on their own reactions while you remain available to them with your love.
Safety and Stability:  Make sure your child is safe and not accessible to the perpetrator.  Be available to help your child cope with their disclosure and its accompanying reactions.  Doing so helps build a secure base to begin the healing process.

Stay focused and calm: While it is essential that you have time to process your own reactions to the disclosure of trauma, right now during rapid response your efforts need to be focused on providing safety and compassion for your child. This is where you can start applying BALMS to your child.  Take some deep breaths and allow yourself to have time to think through your responses so they are measured and cproject a sense of control over the situation.  How would you want someone to help you?
Assure: Remind your child that they are safe and that they are still loved even after disclosing the abuse.  Provide comfort and remind them that you will help them through the recovery process.
Locate love and support: Your child's trauma is also your trauma.  You cannot be expected to help your child alone.  Doing so will lead to burn out for you and greater difficulty for your child if you do not have your own support network to help you with your experience.
Validate your experience: All thoughts and feelings are real and relevant.  You will likely experience a wide range of emotional responses so let yourself experience them as being real and alright to have.  Your own support network is critical.
Empower: You are now tasked with beginning the damage control and clean-up process following the explosion of the trauma bomb.  Remember that you are resilient and have been trusted with helping your child achieve mastery over their traumatic experience.  While difficult you and your child are already taking charge and working toward recovery by remaining grounded and focusing on emotional and psychological stability.

Balms and salves are excellent for rapid response trauma care but they are not only useful for the immediate aftermath of the explosion.  As you go through later steps of the explosion damage response and future healing process, you will need to keep your balms and salves handy for everyone as a source of relief to the ongoing pain.  Thank you for reading and I hope that you go into action remembering that you are strong and you are precious to your child.  They need you more than ever.  You can do this!

March 15, 2019

Trauma Bomb Rapid Response Part One: The child's revelation of sexual abuse

Hello Everyone,

      I hope you are all well.  There has been a recent resurgence in focus on child sexual abuse and its impacts not only on the victims but on their family and support systems as a whole.  With recent documentaries, exposes, and interviews with alleged celebrity perpetrators, many parents are finding new fears not only around protecting their children from being the victims of such trauma but also around how to do damage control when they find out that their child has been a victim.  In response to numerous parent questions and concerns, this month's post will take a look at some tools that parents (or any loved ones) can use at the time abuse has been disclosed to provide some anchorage in the new storm of chaos.
Image result for castle bravo test       A child's disclosure of sexually abused trauma has the emotional and psychological impact of nuclear explosion on the whole family system.  Just like a nuclear explosion, the disclosure of the abuse represents the initial detonation of a trauma bomb on what we can say is the village of a previously an intact family.  The subsequent shockwaves following the detonation represent the devastation of farther ranging impacts on the family as a whole as well as its component individuals.  The effects of disclosure on individuals in the family are called fallout and, just like the aftermath of a nuclear explosion,  can linger for years and can continue to deliver poison that weakens recovery efforts or in some cases contribute to their complete failure.  A disclosure of sexual abuse does not come with the aid of an air raid siren or with other advanced warning in many circumstances.  While there are warning signs of sexual abuse , in many cases there is no knowledge that it is even occurring, which makes the power of the initial blast so much more devastating.  It is outside the scope of this post to go into detail about all of the different emotional and psychological aspects giving power to the trauma bomb, however it is critical to note that they are many, conflicting, and totally overwhelming.  When a child reveals abuse to the parent, that explosion is immediately absorbed by the parent, which sets off their own chain reaction of thoughts and emotional trauma.  This chain reaction continues as it spreads from family member to family member and throughout the extended support system, hence the shockwave effect.
      Before we look into our suggestions for emergency response, I want to take a moment to make several points very clear.  Taking them to heart may be very difficult, but you, the parent or loved one, need to make the effort for yourself and your child. 
      First, you may have an overwhelming surge of guilt that you did not protect your child or that you had no idea they were being abused.  Experience that emotion but do not get caught in it because you will invariably collapse inward on yourself at the expense of being able to help your child.  Please remember that perpetrators of sexual abuse are very good at not getting caught and it often only gets revealed after the abuse has been going on for a long time.  Since you are not a super hero with powers of seeing what is not visible, you cannot be expected to know.
      Second, it is unreasonable to expect that your child has been purposely withholding information from you about the abuse or that they are trying to gain some kind of attention by revealing abuse to you.  For us children who have been abused, whether we reveal early into the abuse, or many years later, it is completely dependent on how we have been scarred by the abuse.  For many of us, we have been threatened or coerced into silence.  For others, we have been groomed to believe that the abuse is alright and normal.  For others, there is fear that we will not be believed if we tell our loved ones, or that we might be responsible for destruction of the family.  Many of us, when encountered with the shocking fact that the abuse is either not ok or has been so damaging to our bio-psycho-social-spiritual-sexual self, withdraw into numbness or experience profound shame and try to bury the horror.  We do not reveal sexual abuse with the goal of hurting you.  If we could we would make it our responsibility to take on your trauma from hearing our revelation; we experience tremendous guilt as a result, which often contributes to why we won't tell you.
      Third, you as the parent, may have expectations for how your child reacts to their own disclosure.  You may also have expectations for yourself for how you will react to the detonation.  Consider SUSPENDING YOUR DISBELIEF.  A child who has been abused is experiencing a huge range of thoughts and feelings all conflicting with each other and uncontainable when pushed too far.  You may not get an emotional reaction you are expecting.  for example, one child I worked with experienced disclosure of their trauma as a happy event because they felt a sense of freedom from the terror they had endured.  Another displayed no emotion at all.  as recipients of this information you may not know how to react either, yet however you do, know that it is real and valid, and must be held in some control when you are being told about the abuse.
      Fourth, the shockwaves of the abuse will spread to other members of the family, especially if a member is the perpetrator.  Know that further damage control and crisis intervention will be needed.  Family alliances, structure, supports, strengths, functioning, and identity of the family as cohesive unit all get destroyed by the detonation of the sexual abuse trauma bomb.  Trust gets destroyed and relationships can be irreparably damaged. 
      However, you as parents, are resilient and that quality is critical to have not just at the time of disclosure but as you help everyone heal and rebuild the family village.  You will need this resilience and an ability to tap into your deepest strength as a caregiver to provide the necessary damage control and lay the groundwork for your child's recover, which will be discussed in the next post.


February 11, 2019

Unhappy Valentine's Day? It Does Not Have Be That Way, Even If You Are Single!

Hello everyone,

      I hope you are all well.  Valentine's Day is coming up, and since February does not have much else to offer in terms of holidays ripe for mass consumerism, whether it is ads on the radio, television, or huge card and balloon stands, you can bet that you are going to be bombarded by constant reminders that you had best remember to celebrate your relationship with that special someone, or else...
      While the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day  come full of reminders to celebrate our love and special relationships with gifts, for many of us, Valentine's Day and the time leading up to it brings the reminders of being single and lonely.  (Please see my post for December about coping with loneliness during the holidays for a more detailed discussion of causes of loneliness and its impacts on sense of self and quality of life.)  For many of us, hearing ads saying to show your love with expensive jewelry, or rose bouquets, or deals for couples, serve as harsh reminders that we are not in an relationship.  Often times, although not explicitly stated, the message "show off your romance for the world to see!" or "show everyone your love" is sent through such advertising at this time of year.  It is also considered socially and culturally acceptable to engage in more public displays of affection as well.  Please note that I am in no way trying to suggest that people need to feel guilty for showing their affection for their partner, in fact quite the opposite!  Merely, I am aiming to draw attention to a very visual source of distress and frustration for our loved ones who are single and struggling to enter into a loving, romantic relationship.
      With the ever increasing presence of social media and instant status updates, various social media platforms are ever the source of further reminders of someone's single status.  Being confronted with images or videos of friends, loved ones, or even strangers seemingly engaged in a happy romance, can be quite distressing.  It's not uncommon at all for singles, male or female or transgender, to quickly involute and turn in on themselves to try and find answers to why they are single.  For many with poor self-acceptance, being reminded of being single is the same as being reminded of being a loser.  In a world where social media is there to show social popularity and, especially, fitting in, the very real images that we are not part of highlight this social goal with brutal clarity.
      For example, I remember as a kid, before social media (to date myself), that it was very easy to forget about other students in class and being popular when not in school, because let's face it, my mind was not developed enough to really engage in or care that much about what other kids were doing or who they were hanging out with.  Come a holiday like Valentine's Day, every student had to give the other students a Valentine, no question.  It was really easy to get caught up in the hype and feel like you were the most accepted student in the class and that everyone was your friend because you got a Valentine from everyone.  In basic concrete thinking a Valentine was given to show care and friendship; therefore getting one from every student naturally meant they were a friend.  For me, Valentines were the equivalent of "likes" for the 90's.
      Now let's fast forward to today where we grow up and, of course, learn that giving a Valentine is a social nicety but does not mean you are friends at all.  With social media use being used by kids who are younger and younger, this message is being made all the more clear, especially when their peers are posting pictures of all the fun stuff they are doing with other peers when they are not invited.  "But I got a Valentine from them!  Why did they leave me out!  I thought we were friends!"  What confusion and frustration!  What disbelief!  And what a rough way to come to the conclusion (however wrong but since we are being conditioned to view likes, number of comments, friend requests, and physical items like cards or candy as true measures of friendship and worth) that I do not fit in and do not have anyone who cares about me.
      For the older kids and adults, giving classroom Valentines has transitioned to what we see/hear in the ads and what we see people posting about romantic trips or dinner dates.  Again, these reinforce the concept that romantic relationships are socially important and special.  The consumerist aspect further adds a frustrating layer of commodification and an association of wealth with quality of relationship.
      These points noted above, are especially difficult for young people with disabilities and developmental diagnoses.  In essence, the exposure is setting a goal that is largely unattainable, at least according to the images being conveyed via advertising.  If anything, this time of year is for many with such diagnoses, extremely difficult because it highlights people who are "normal" as the only ones able to be successful achieving a goal which is a huge challenge for many with developmental diagnoses: social acceptance and inclusion.  As we continue to learn more about how the minds of individuals with developmental diagnoses work, we are learning that they desire inclusion and acceptance with mainstream society.  Having difficulty with social skills and other challenges adds layers of further difficulty, which gets compounded by the lack of societal understanding of these diagnoses and how they exactly impact the lives of those with them.  We are still very much in a society that views people who do not fit societal images of normality as being "other".  When these views are reinforced with all the reminders of what sets the "other" apart from the normal, especially when linked to subjective emotions like love and naturally normal desires for love and companionship (as in advertising or social media) it is very common for these natural needs to become seen as unattainable.  For individuals who so want to be accepted like everyone else, having a developmental diagnosis and the knowledge of its limitations and challenges on being able to achieve the socially defined goals of acceptance, greatly contributes to the presence of self-hate and shame.  That said, it does not have to be this way, whether for someone with a developmental diagnoses or any other child or adult who "does not fit in".
     Here is a helpful (hopefully) handout with some ideas on how YOU can take the power of determining whether you have worth and are worthy of having a romantic relationship, away from the consumerists and turn this time of year from one of exclusion to one of inclusion.  Best of luck, YOU deserve it!

December 13, 2018

Alone for the Holidays: Helping Your Young Adult Cope With Being Single During the Holidays

Hello Everyone,

      I trust you are all well and enjoying the holiday season.  This time of year can be a source of great joy and happiness for many, especially when spent with family, loved, ones or a significant other.  For others, however, this time of year can represent a time of great loneliness.  While getting together with others to celebrate can be great fun, such gatherings can serve as very painful reminders to those who desire a romantic relationship, but do not have one, of their isolation.  These reminders can often have disproportionately intense emotional and psychological impacts on those with developmental diagnoses.  Indeed, being reminded of not having someone special to celebrate the holidays with contributes in no small part to increases in depression and melancholy.  Sadly this post does not permit an in-depth rehashing of the reasons contributing to their distress, so please refer to my previous post on rejection to get the science behind the the reaction.
      Without fail, every year, once the holiday season begins, I encounter many young men, who are despondent over their single status.  I also receive many more concerned requests for help for parents who are equally worried, as well as frustrated, about helping their young man cope with the intensity of their psycho-socio-sexual tempest.  Why frustrated?  Why upset?  Even, why angry?  Why do parents experience these reactions to their young man's pain?  Well, for those wondering why a parent would react this way, it is VERY understandable.  Dealing with an individual with a developmental diagnoses often involves huge efforts helping that person manage emotional and psychological dis-regulation.  Once the individual has identified that source of angst, they very often will perseverate and get "stuck" on the issue as they try to cope with the distress, often by trying to figure it out.  When an answer is found, especially one that does not make sense to them or does not meet with their agreement, the perseveration can intensify.
      As parents know, it can be extremely trying to get the person to shift to a different topic or just let it go.  Many times loved ones do not have the endurance to continue the struggle and become frustrated, angry, etc.  It is very common that this time of year especially generates frustration for loved ones because of the triggering nature socio-cultural expectations of our holiday culture.  Being faced repeatedly with not having a relationship, when you have never had one, or have endured a break-up, is likely to trigger a resurgence of thoughts and emotions that may have not been dealt with for a long time.  I have worked with numerous parents around their frustration and anger over seeing all the work they have done with their young man, or the work the young man has done in therapy on their own, seem to disappear to be replaced by those perseverative,  life disrupting triggers that brought them into therapy to begin with.  I have to say, it is also a very discouraging time for me sometimes to see similar situations occur, especially when I have seen a guy make so much progress, only to seemingly fall apart when he sees all of his siblings with their significant other at the once-a-year family holiday get-together.  Such an occurrence can be massively difficult for loved ones to cope with, not just their own frustration, but to be available to their young man to help him re-visit his source of socially fueled torment.  So, enough blah blah blah from me...what can we do to stay sane managing our reactions to processing a topic that we have dealt with more times we can count (while trying not to pull our hair out), while also helping them cope with their reactions?
      Here is a helpful (hopefully) handout to give YOU a hand out figuring what to do.  Maybe, you may also find it helpful for other situations as well, even if they are not related to dating and relationships.  Either way, I would like to wish you the very best of luck and leave you with this gentle reminder that, even without professional training, YOU ARE THE EXPERT on your young man.  Have a blessed Holiday season!

November 13, 2018

"Textiquette" Texting Etiquette for You and Me

Hello Everyone,

I hope you are all well and getting ready for the holiday season.  I have been approached by numerous families of kids with special needs with concerns about using texting as a means of communication during the holidays, especially for communicating with family and friends who they may not get to see in-person.  In response, I have created a fact sheet for parents and other caregivers to use as a guide for helping their child master this skill appropriately and safely.  Please remember that texting etiquette is a set of social skills just the same as "in-real-life" social skills and is much more useful when practiced regularly.  I hope you find this helpful and happy Thanksgiving!

Please feel free to use this resource as you wish, however note that it is protected under copyright and trademark laws.  Please feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions about using this resource in other capacities besides those for which it is intended.  Thank you!

October 15, 2018

2018 Montgomery County Transitioning Youth-Dating and Relationship Handouts

Hello Everyone,

Thank you for attending the 2018 Montgomery County Transitioning Youth Resource Fair!  The vendors were really great this year and so was attendance.  I am posting my presentation handouts as requested so please feel free to use them any way you want.  Please know that these handouts, and CREEPDAR, are registered trademarks of JMR Counseling LLC. and may not be reproduced for any purposes other than personal use.  Thank you for your cooperation and I hope you find them useful!

August 7, 2018

Identifying Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children with Special Needs

Hello Everyone,

      I hope you are enjoying your summer!  At the beginning of August, a child with special needs was sexually abused by a school bus driver in our local community.  It is not known how long the abuse has been going on for or if this was a single instance.  What is known is that the child was a vulnerable target and unable to defend themselves against this individual.  So what about my child?!  What about other children with special needs?  How can I tell if my child is a victim of sexual abuse?  What if my child does not tell me they are being abused?  How can I get them help?  I am going to attempt to address these concerns in today's post, drawing on my personal past experiences as a child welfare worker with children with special needs who were victims of sexual abuse.
      Ok, so before we begin to look at warning signs of sexual abuse in children with special needs, we need review why they may not be able to use their words to communicate the abuse in the first place.  I have written a previous post discussing this in detail, which you can read here: Factors Contributing to Aggression in Sexual Abuse Victims with Autism.  To summarize in brief, children with special needs often present with significant limitations around interpreting, processing, and appropriately communicating complex thoughts and emotions.  They are not at all unlike non-special needs children in that they are able to understand trauma as a significant, damaging event, or that they often react to trauma as any other individual will.  Sexual abuse IS trauma, yet the child with special needs will experience that trauma's associated fear of the perpetrator, anxiety, shame, confusion, lack of knowledge and so on as an much heavier insult on their brain's already limited ability to multi-task the processes of accurately receiving, processing, contextualizing, and accurately understanding the event itself to be able to report it.  As we know, many children with special needs rely on using comparison of facts and information within existing frameworks of past experience to generate understanding and internally driven responses to new occurrences in their lives.  Often, the result in this context, is not reporting sexual abuse at all (or waiting to report until they recognize something is inappropriate) or shutting down as a way of either avoiding the stresses involved in processing the trauma or fear of the perpetrator.
      During my time in child welfare, we were taught to observe children with special needs for signs of sexual abuse, physical and behavioral, using the same criteria as for non-special needs children.  Very quickly, we began to notice that while children with special needs do present symptoms in similar ways to other children, they also present with some significant differences.  Here is what to look for:

Physical Signs:

Physical injury such as cuts, scrapes, bruises, etc. (child welfare does not distinguish between physical injury done by the child to themselves or that done by someone else)

Complaints of pain or burning in "private areas" (your child may have their own terms for private parts so listen for any instances when they speak about something being different with them)

Increased or decreased expulsion of body waste (complaints of pain or burning can create the sensation of having to use the bathroom; they can also create pain making toiletting too difficult to perform without significant discomfort, leading to toiletting avoidance)

Other signs of physical trauma to private areas such as difficulty walking/sitting, blood in under garments, difficulty toiletting or presence of "sudden" venereal disease (from a former worker standpoint, as a parent make sure you rule out any other possible medical reasons for these injuries)

Increased presence of self-inflicted wounds/injury (I consider this one separate from physical injury as these wounds can be closely linked with increased self-injurious behavior being used to self-sooth after trauma)

Physical changes in child's affect or non-verbal expression of emotion (how do their expressions actually look different when they register emotion, not the behavior of showing emotion)

Weight loss (the physical effect of the behavior change of not eating by refusing to let objects near the mouth.  I encountered this complication in several circumstances where the child's sudden weight loss and refusal to eat was the result of trauma from sexual abuse)

      These may sound obvious so why are you wasting a post, and more importantly MY time with your ramblings?  I cannot stress enough from the child welfare perspective that physical signs of sexual abuse are one of those warnings equivalent to pushing the red button that launches the nukes only to result in an irreversible nuclear holocaust with an "oops...sorry wrong way to deal with this situation" response that does not fix the damage.  In child welfare, all physical injuries or signs of sexual abuse are cause for report and investigation by child protective services; the majority of child welfare workers are not taught about the unique aspects of physical injury to children with special needs such as for purposes of self-soothing or expressing emotion.  However, child welfare will not draw any conclusions confirming the presence of abuse or not without a "preponderance of evidence", and therefore will not take conclusive action until such evidence is gathered.  It is very unfortunate that this often means the abuse continues while evidence to support the presence of abuse is being gathered.  In other situations, where the abuse is stopped, the perpetrator is not comprehensively punished due to the lack of gathered evidence to link them to the child.  This results in a very catch-22 situation for parents and I think gets at much of the rage in the community over the lack of action taken against perpetrators.
      No parent should be expected to allow their child with special needs to continue to suffer sexual abuse to have it proven; sexual abuse is sexual abuse regardless of frequency or types of inappropriate sexual behavior by the perpetrator.  However, speaking from experience, the same investigatory system that will immediately investigate reports of abuse will also work against many victims and their families by forcing them to prove that it was not another cause of the injury and was instead abuse.  Parents are likely to be investigated for their role in the injury and often times jurisdictions will not include the testimony of the victim due in large part to societal views of children, especially children with special needs as unreliable reporters or as being unable to accurately understand what occurred.  We also live in a society where sexual abuse of minors is very taboo and to think of it being done to children by the same institutions designed to help them grow, is horrific.  Unfortunately, and not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, many institutions will not consider the issue as being an issue affecting them, and if they do, they often will expend great resources to disprove or mitigate the impact on their position in society.  I cannot tell you how many times I have had to testify on behalf of the child welfare system against another government institution that a child with special needs was sexual abused only for the other institution to challenge the credibility of mine and the child/their family reports.

Behavioral Signs:

Behavior signs like physical signs require a preponderance of proof and will be challenged more rigorously than physical signs as being conclusive.  Again this has to do with the same reasons as mentioned above.  There will be much more examination of other possible causes of the behavior change as being responsible before sexual abuse will be acknowledged as the culprit.  Unfortunately, the behavior signs can be much more conclusive indicators of sexual abuse, but do not get the intensive treatment as physical indicators.  Do not be surprised to hear that your observations of behavior change do not constitute a reportable or investigable incident.  Here are the behavior signs used by child welfare and some that are not, but which experience has shown to be important to notice.

Sleep issues (many children with and without special needs will experience night terrors or disruptions to sleep, however children with special needs often have significant sleep issues unrelated to abuse or trauma so be very careful when examining this one)

Increased or decreased toilet use (pain caused by sexual abuse to private areas can contribute to urges to go to the bathroom as well as contributing to avoidance due to pain associated with going)

Changes in eating or refusal to eat (mentioned above under physical signs, weight loss caused by refusal to eat may be an indicator of possible fear or repulsion of objects near/in the mouth.  Can present as sudden new sensory aversion)

Increased rumination (for many children with special needs, rumination is a form of self-soothing, especially for non-verbal children; an increase in ruminative behaviors may be worth noting)

Also be aware of cognitive rumination such as repetitive statements about body parts, self-hate remarks, repetitive discussion of sexual behavior or questions, a hyper-focus on certain individuals and discussing their body parts, and so on.

Sudden changes in mood and increased irritability (there are many causes for this one so it helps to observe for any sudden changes in behavior around known stressors or known pleasures to the child)

New fear of specific places or individuals (can be caused by many factors, yet worth noting)

Increased aggression towards certain trusted individual(s) (this does not mean the trusted individual is by any means the perpetrator, yet the child may take out their aggression on this individual because they are a safe outlet.  In several cases children with special needs I worked with took aggression out on trusted individuals physically and verbally for not "protecting them").

Increased presence of fear of being left alone or abandoned by a trusted individual

Statements of betrayal by trusted individual (many children with special needs think in very concrete terms of the role trusted individuals play; they can often feel betrayed if the individual fails to perform their role or shifts in their performance)

Increased extremes in emotional expression (individuals with special needs experience emotions very strongly and may experience greater difficulty regulating themselves in response to trauma.  Conversely they may withdraw or shut down emotionally.  Both of these are closely involved in the discussion of cognitive limitation impacts on processing trauma)

Increased presence of self-injurious behavior (This is a complex one owing in part to an increased societal focus on preventing suicide.  It is not uncommon for child welfare workers or other professionals involved in the care of children to "jump the gun" and attribute self-injurious behavior as a sign of suicidal thinking.  Do not discount the possibility as this has a history of occurring in response to sexual abuse.  Unfortunately, there is not much literature on suicidality in sexual abuse victims with special needs and even less on individuals with special needs ability to distinguish between self-injurious behavior and self-harm)

Disrupted routines (There are always disruptions to routines, but not by the individual with special needs if they can help it.  Routine is comforting and safe so observations of self-initiated deviation from routine and increased disorganization can be a sign worth noting)

Previously non-existent phobias (some children may develop a phobia to a specific aspect of the sexual abuse that may seem strange or random to outside observers)

 Increased presence/persistence of negative behaviors (especially common in non-verbal children as a means of self-expression.  I have also witnessed on several occasions where a child with special needs would engage in behaviors upsetting to trusted individuals as a way of showing anger toward them for not helping them)

Changes in metaphorical expression (children with special needs often use metaphors centered around topics of interest to better understand/relate to their world.  Watch for changes of how these metaphors are used, especially increases in aggressive or fear-based use as well as sudden changes to the repertoire of use.  For example one child I worked with used football players as a metaphor for understanding social interactions; he began talking about the players punching each other in their private parts when they were angry and grabbing each other inappropriately when they wanted to tell another player they liked how they played.

      Ok, so I have thrown a lot at you and this is no easy or pleasant topic to deal with.  But what about psychological/emotional signs of abuse?  Unfortunately, your best bet as a parent is to focus on the physical and behavior warning signs when dealing with child welfare.  Psychological and emotional signs outside of those related to visible behaviors are very hard to use since they are subjective and do not have concrete evidence to back them up.
      As a former child welfare worker, I cannot stress the importance of understanding the warning signs and being able to not only recognize them when they happen but to CRITICALLY evaluate them and their implications when considering the possibility of sexual abuse in your child with special needs.  In a number of respects your job of protecting your child is made more difficult by their diagnoses and increased vulnerability.  However, you are the expert on your child and if you suspect something is wrong, then go with it.  Just remember to carefully evaluate all symptoms very carefully if for no other reason than your own peace of mind and for building your case when you report.  I wish you all the best of luck and please know that you have allies in the community who want to help despite the red-tape of the system.  Thank you for reading and take care!

June 18, 2018

Podcast Episode About Friendship

Hello Everyone,

I hope you are all having a happy June.  Recently, I was interviewed by the "Better With You" podcast about some of my experiences working with young people with developmental diagnoses on issues around making and keeping friends.  When first approached to do the episode, I thought it would be important to focus on how capable and successful individuals with developmental diagnoses are at making and keeping friends.  It was also equally important to me to focus on why there are so many misconceptions about their social/emotional abilities and challenge them by using observations from different points in my career working with these individuals.  I hope you will be able to take a listen by clicking on the links below.  

Stitcher (You can stream through your browser)

You can also search find the episode on Apple Podcasts, Google podcasts, and most other Podcast apps by searching "Better With You" 

I am also excited to hopefully doing future episodes and would love to hear your stories about your child, other family member, or yourself for that matter.  You can email me directly at if interested in sharing your story.  Together we can put an end to these misconceptions of people with developmental diagnoses being individuals without emotions, having no social abilities, being totally clueless to others, and not being capable of or desiring longterm relationships.

May 23, 2018

RESCHEDULED!!!! Masturbation and Your Young Man with Autism

Hello Everyone,

No post for May.  My originally scheduled free information session "Masturbation and Your Young Man with Autism" has been rescheduled for this August to allow more time for interested individuals to register.  Please see below for the new details and I look forward to seeing you there!

Masturbation and Your Young Man with Autism

What is it? 
This is a FREE one-hour event for parents of young men with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental diagnoses looking at addressing concerning behaviors associated with young men and masturbation during puberty.

What time are we meeting?
The discussion will be held on Saturday, August 11th at 12:30 P.M.

Where are we meeting?
We will be meeting at 10400 Connecticut Ave., Ste. 200, in Kensington Maryland.  Free parking is available in the parking lot next to the building.  Parking is easiest to access if you are coming down Connecticut Avenue toward the District of Columbia.

Is there a fee?
There is no fee for this discussion, however space is limited so please register early to guarantee a space.

What will we talk about?
What is masturbation anyway? 
Why does my son masturbate?
How do I have a conversation with my son about safe and appropriate masturbation?
How do I teach healthy and safe boundaries around masturbation?
How can I manage my own worries around having this discussion?                                              
What about my fears that he may get into serious trouble?  What about safety?
How can I be supportive and nurturing of my son's behavior during this time?
What about PORNOGRAPHY?!

Who do I talk to if I want to register?

You can contact the presenter, Jonathan Rhoads*, directly at (301)-639-4036 or by email at to register.

*Jonathan Rhoads is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children, adolescents, and young adults diagnoses with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental diagnoses.  His areas of focus include building awareness and understanding of complex feelings and emotions, developing solutions to manage environmental stress, and addressing social anxiety issues around dating and relationships.

April 19, 2018

Introducing the "Let's Talk Sex and Sexuality for People with IDD and Autism" Series

Hello Everyone,

Image result for autism awarenessWe are well into Autism Awareness Month and the outpouring of support is really wonderful!  It is really great to see such attention being paid to increasing awareness of autism and efforts to celebrate the individual over the diagnosis.  Celebrating similarities and focusing on successes is critical to helping shift social views on autism; however at this time, it is also very important to pay attention to important areas of difficulty many of our young individuals, and their support systems, must face and find effective ways to address.  As a parent of a young person, you can probably identify several areas of difficulty you are struggling to help your child manage effectively, especially if your child is about to enter or is already wading through the process of puberty. 
Let's face it, puberty can be a real pain in the brain (and body) to deal with, whether you have a developmental diagnosis or not.  Both boys and girls have an equally difficult time coping with puberty. Speaking as a man, and based on my experience working primarily with young men with developmental diagnoses, young guys have a very difficult time adjusting and coping with the changes to their bodies.  When you factor in growing interest in the opposite sex (or not) coupled with hormone changes, subtle and the not so subtle, which you often cannot control, the prospect can be downright overwhelming!  What to do?!  How do we talk to our young guys about their growing sexual awareness?  How do we help them understand what is happening to their bodies and why it is happening?  How do we get ourselves to a place where we can help them understand what sex is and what it means to be a sexual being?  How do we get comfortable speaking to them about safe sexual behavior, knowing full well the numerous mine-fields associated with legal issues around inappropriate sexual behavior?  Honestly, that's often least on the mind of young men who are more preoccupied with trying to gain mastery over their hormone hijacked bodies.  Well, there is hope out there!  Starting in May, I will be posting a series of updates about free talks I will be giving that address some of these issues around puberty, sex, and sexuality, being encountered by parents and their young men. 
I am planning that the first discussion will be for parents, with future offerings for individuals and self-advocates with developmental diagnoses. Please take a look below for my first offering.  There is a very real need for discussing this topic as it impacts girls with developmental diagnoses and these may be offered in the future.  Please know that these topics are presented based on community demand.  If there is a topic you would like discussed, please tell me!

Masturbation and Your Young Man with Autism

What is it? 
This is a FREE one-hour event for parents of young men with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental diagnoses looking at addressing behavior concerns associated with young men and masturbation during puberty.

What time are we meeting?
The discussion will be held on Saturday, May 19th at 12:30 P.M.

Where are we meeting?
We will be meeting at 10400 Connecticut Ave., Ste. 200, in Kensington Maryland.  Free parking is available in the parking lot next to the building.  Parking is easiest to access if you are coming down Connecticut Avenue toward the District of Columbia.

Is there a fee?
There is no fee for this discussion, however space is limited so please register early to guarantee a space.

What will we talk about?
What is masturbation anyway? 
Why does my son masturbate?
How do I have a conversation with my son about safe and appropriate masturbation?
How do I teach healthy and safe boundaries around masturbation?
How can I manage my own worries around having this discussion?                                              
What about my fears that he may get into serious trouble?  What about safety?
How can I be supportive and nurturing of my son's behavior during this time?
What about PORNOGRAPHY?!

Who do I talk to if I want to register?

You can contact the presenter, Jonathan Rhoads*, directly at (301)-639-4036 or by email at to register.

*Jonathan Rhoads is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children, adolescents, and young adults diagnoses with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental diagnoses.  His areas of focus include building awareness and understanding of complex feelings and emotions, developing solutions to manage environmental stress, and addressing social anxiety issues around dating and relationships.