By Wendy J Olson, Healing Coach, Founder + Executive Director of Grit Plus Gumption
As a parent to a child with autism, I know what the month of April represents: Autism Awareness Month. And as a survivor os sexual assault, I also know what April brings: Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Moreover, April is also Child Abuse Prevention Month. And while these seem like three totally separate entities, they are not.
When I think about my son, I think of someone that walks inside a vulnerable population. One who doesn’t fully comprehend the world of them, and who, in that case, can become a predator’s target. So I’m sure you can imagine the kind of worry this special needs mom carries around at all times, on top of just regular mom worry.
It can feel maddening that we are not in control at all times, and yet crazy making that we think we have any sort of control at all. We want it, but we don’t. We want to protect our kids, while also helping them to live free and independent lives not bent on fear and anxiety running their lives. We want them to have better than we did. And we’ll give that to them at any cost.
As a mom to a child with autism, his potential for abuse and exploitation reigns supreme in my mind. He is part of a vulnerable population. He is an easy target. He is also incredibly trusting and doesn’t understand the way the world works, (despite me painting a horrible picture daily.) He was 3.5 years old before he had words. He was nonverbal and had no spontaneous speech for nearly 5 years. He doesn’t understand the concept of subtle abuse, such as narcissistic abuse, emotional abuse, gaslighting, and manipulation. He doesn’t understand the concept of money and barely has a grasp on how time works. (Maybe all kids think time waits on them…?) He is part of a vulnerable population of children that think differently, act differently, and have difficulty comprehending AND communicating. So what happens when one of our special needs kids are harmed, and they have no language or words to tell us what happened? It’s a scary reality we face as parents of these special kids.
And so while there are many different aspects of the subject we are talking about this month, they are all linked in one form or another. A vulnerable child is a target, is a target, is a target. A child raised in poverty, a child raised in a neglectful home, a child raised by a narcissist. We are all targets of the evils of this world. Of exploitation, of assault, of abuse.
Even as I write this, the wounds from the Nashville school shooting are still fresh. My husband and I sat, staring blankly at the dining room table Monday night. How could this be? Why is this still happening? And how do we move forward to protect our kids? We would stop at nothing to prevent harm from coming to our children. Yet we feel so helpless in this world right now. And maybe you do too.
How can we as parents, as adults who are supposed to be leading this world, protecting our children, prevent abuse from happening in their lives? My good friend, Emily Mills of Jesus Said Love wrote about “Confident Kids” in this post in January. A confident child is an abuser’s worst nightmare.
How do we raise our kids to be confident?
That’s a great question. And I wish I knew a perfect, easy answer. But I know a few basics:
- You can’t love your kids too much.
- But you can protect them too much.
- You can’t give them “too much” self-esteem.
- But you can definitely rob them of it.
- They need to know they are loved, seen, heard, and known.
No matter what happens to our kids, and things will happen, the world has a way of getting in…we’re gonna be ok. They’re gonna be ok. We need to know that in order to sleep at night. We need to believe that in order to keep breathing, keep functioning.
We need to never stop fighting for better. They deserve better than what we had, what we have. They deserve more. And they need to know they deserve it and it is theirs for the taking. They need to see us fight, lose, rest, get up, and try again.
I don’t know about you, but I will never stop fighting for my kids. And I’m gonna guess you’re the same way. I don’t care if my daughter is 35 and has kids of her own, she will always know her momma is in her corner. Her momma is a warrior. And I am raising a warrior to carry on our legacy.
So how do we prevent sexual assault, sexual exploitation, and child abuse? We raise warriors. And we teach them that they are worthy.
Now go fight for yours.