How do I teach my developmentally disabled child about strangers and predators?

Q: My soon-to-be six-year-old is developmentally disabled and doesn't express himself well. How do I teach him about stranger danger or sexual predators? I was able to teach my two older children about this very early, but I'm not sure how to go about it with him. He is high-functioning, but it's difficult to hold a conversation with him.

A: Teaching your child, of any age, about strangers and predators is tricky because children are so literal and teaching this lesson requires a lot of gray thinking ability. Nonetheless, it’s an important discussion and lesson that must be discussed with our children. The first thing to assess is the developmental level of your six-year-old son given his disability. The easiest approach is to find some books in your local library, at his reading level, and read along with your child. Then, ask questions and let your child ask you questions. It’s finding that balance between scaring your child and breeding anxiety versus building the awareness that your child needs to have in order to know who is a stranger and who is a friend; when to accept a ride from a friend and when it’s not okay, etc. It’s especially scary because your child with a developmental disability may be perceived as a target because of his naiveté and vulnerability. So, if your child doesn’t want to talk long, then don’t. Bring it up a little bit each day or couple of days and allow the conversation and questions to just flow naturally. Role play. Use your two older children to set up a scenario and model reactions, words, and actions. You can also search for child-friendly stranger danger videos online and find one that you think your son will be entertained by. If you’re close with your neighbors, ask them to contact you and/or the police if they should see something suspicious. Small bits of information using books, videos and role-playing, and let the conversation happen for as long as it wants to! Good luck!

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