From my years of experience within support groups, discussions with other parents and from my own experiences this can appear to be quite a common issue that many parents face.
Some children may display inappropriate sexualised behaviour from a young age and for others it may appear more prolific during puberty when sexual awareness and feelings perhaps begin stirring.
This can be confusing, worrying and puzzling for many parents especially when it can begin at such a young age. Well before they may have been unintentionally exposed to any external influences either via the media, peers or older siblings and relatives.
Many parents can be afraid to discuss this with professionals fearing that it may be assumed that these actions are the result of child abuse and therefore be regarded as a safe guarding issue. For other parents their child may display these behaviours in school and this may then become a safeguarding issue because the school would have a duty to report any concerns that they may have to the relevant authorities.
However, for many children with PDA this type of behaviour can be fairly typical and may not be the result of poor parenting or abuse but may, instead, just be another feature of their underlying condition.
Please find below a quote from Phil Christie which offers really useful insight into why this may occur
‘Children and young people with PDA are sometimes reported as displaying sexualised behaviours, particularly girls. There may be a number of reasons that contribute to this and dealing with it is certainly not easy for parents or professionals. Reasons for this could include a lack of social understanding and therefore a lack of social inhibition; sensory processing and modulating differences; a drive to use shocking behaviour (sexualised behaviour is an especially effective way of distracting people and of avoiding demands); seeking positive relationships with others by wanting to please them without knowing how to handle a mature intimate relationship; issues regarding impulse control alongside a poor understanding of the consequences of their behaviour. Lots of children and young people experiment with adult type of behaviour but typically developing children are usually better at making judgements that keep them safe and protected. The factors outlined above make some children and young people with PDA very vulnerable.’ Phil Christie (2015)
Because our children may be especially vulnerable it may be wise to be extra vigilant when they are online because this is where so many people, including NT adults and NT children, can be taken advantage of.
As a first measure it may be possible to set your internet router so that your child cannot access adult material that may be unsuitable for them. Exposure to unrealistic images or information online may give them a confused idea of what would be deemed acceptable or expected in a loving relationship.
In order to make them aware of the dangers that can exist online you could write down a list of do’s and don’ts to keep them safe. Of course such a list delivered verbally may immediately prompt demand avoidance and make them compelled to do the opposite. So it may be a good idea to print some information off from the internet or make your own poster and simply leave it around the house. I have found that it is amazing what information our children will take on-board and comply with if they don’t feel that it is directly aimed at them.
Sometimes just carefully planting tiny seeds can lead to the child actually building on this snippet of information so that they actually cultivate the seed into a tree of knowledge. When this happens they may become quite adept at keeping themselves safe through the knowledge that they have naturally acquired with a little help from us.
The same approach could also be used to try to educate them on how to stay safe when actually interacting with others. What type of things they should and shouldn’t do when they are with other people or in public and the reasons why, which are ultimately to stop them from being taken advantage of.