Susan's Blog

Monday, July 2, 2012

Autism Mommy Swami #12: Masturbation

Dear Swami,

We have a 13 year old son.  He is basically moderate to higher functioning, for whatever that means (lol).  Puberty has hit this poor guy in a big way and we are having issues with his time for his uh, well, masturbation sessions, or PT (private time) as we like to call it around the house and others who have no idea what we’re alluding to.  He had a few episodes at school being caught in the bathroom, and now he is in summer camp and had his first and I fear not his last episode today.

 We have tried to explain to him that he can only do it in our house in specified areas and written social stories as well.  Although he seems to understand that there are limitations, it’s so difficult not having the where with all about how taboo it is, and how disturbing it is to others.  I feel bad for him as he’s asked me for PT time in the tub (it’s main area to do it) and let’s just say it’s evident he needs that time, and this can’t be helped.  My hubby tries to help too but nothing seems to help him get past the urge if you will.

All the other mom’s I’ve asked about this either say their son doesn’t do it, or they aren’t aware they are doing it.  I guess I am the only one with a kid with Autism that masturbates in public places!!!!…. I don’t think so.  It’s a huge problem for us right now.

Any info or resources you could offer would be wonderful.  He’s is our only child, so I don’t have much experience in this whole arena if you will.  I almost lost it when I saw his first underarm hair 3 years ago, so you can imagine how it is dealing with this!  

Thanks so much
B

Dear B,

Ah, yes, the M word, the Swami knows all about this as do all of us because masturbation is as normal and human as breathing. Everybody’s doing it, or wants to, or is thinking about it, or has just finished, or will get there in time. None of the moms talk about it because they are struggling with it, too. This the Swami promises you. It’s just that none of us really knows how to talk about it and there are not really great resources for us, either. (Although I have to say that Dr. Peter Gerhardt is the one I’d go to. I know him, he’s a delightful guy, and is very direct and can-do. He has written and lectured on sexuality and ASD, and I know there is some literature out there that he’s put together.)

Clearly you are very aware of the challenge here, and the gravity of the problem. I commend you for already having helped him find a good place (the tub) and a name for it.

That being said, it is best if you can approach this milestone as calmly as possible. Your boy will pick up on your stress as it is, and so the more at peace with this phase you can be, the better. Problems become nightmares when we try to deny or suppress them, when we allow fear to consume us and taint the act with shame. The more you can de-mystify this for him, with clarity and calmness, the better it will go for him.

When my Nat was about 13, one of us caught him “at it.” I remember actually feeling sad, but in a kind of normal way, because I realized that he was no longer a little boy, that he truly was growing up into being a man. I think I must have said something about privacy, closing doors, etc. And Nat, God bless him, began calling it “making privacy.”

So take a moment and feel the triumphs you guys have achieved so far, and know that the rest will come. When a problem is fresh and new we think it will last forever; it rarely does.

The public place aspect is, of course, the scariest and most serious part. Have you asked the school for help, as tough as that may be? What do your specialists say?  When I need to bring it up to various staff people in Nat’s life, I try to be as clear as possible while at the same time making it clear that I know none of us wants to talk about this, but we must. I maintain the attitude that this is a person’s human right. Okay, so what can you do? For starters, I’d tell him that there are only two places he can do this: in his bathroom with the door closed, and in his bedroom with the door closed. That’s it. Nowhere else. A public bathroom is just too risky, too public.

Your guy is likely a concrete thinker, so the clearer and more absolute your rules and messages are, the better. Not punishing, but clear and firm. What are the rules that he needs to understand?

First of all, this is a normal act, and it is perfectly okay that he does it. You can tell him that, as long as you then also tell him that everyone has to abide by certain private time rules:

1. Where: only his bathroom or bedroom with door closed.

2. When: you decide and let him know, but base it on when he seems to need it most. We all have to be aware of time and schedules, so this is not cruel. If you notice him touching himself in the tub, you can say, “Do you need some private time?” and let him tell you. This way you are also calling attention to it and making him aware that what he is doing needs to be attended to (by him), that it is important. In terms of during summer camp, you should probably have a talk with the staff that this is an issue you are all working on, and get agreement on how to handle it so that you are consistent across the board. They can tell him, “Private time at home,” because I just think that using public bathrooms is too risky. And you don’t want the staff to have to be around during, or anything. Only the innermost circle of trusted people (doctor and you). They can try to distract him, always provide other desirable choices, even help him realize that it is difficult because we all do have the urges, but it is okay to do something else until later. Everyone has to learn this anyway, not just him!

3. How: Alone, only by himself, with himself. No one else may touch his private parts except his innermost circle of trusted people — doctor or parent/guardian and only then with an explanation why and asking permission.

The only other issue is how to help him complete properly. Depending on his language level — and it sounds like he has a lot of language — explain that he is responsible for the clean up. We had to tell Nat many many times over the years what was appropriate in terms of clean up. And finally after about 7 years, he got it. But we had to be firm, clear, consistent, and calm so that he could understand what was expected of him without feeling any shame around this very human act.

This is tough, but not impossible.

Love,

Swami

 

 

25 comments

This is extremely helpful and I appreciate the insight. My daughter is nearing 12 and has Down syndrome but has been absolutely relentless with her private time. Best of luck with your son!

— added by Katherine on Monday, July 2, 2012 at 11:40 pm

My boys haven’t reached this stage yet but I know they will someday and I am so grateful I have someone like you to help me know exactly how to deal with this new milestone.

— added by Sunday Stilwell on Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 6:20 am

I am with Sunday. So very grateful you’re covering this subject. It’s been a constant worry for me regarding my son – and he hasn’t even hit this stage yet, but it’s still something my husband and I have talked about, wondering how to handle it when it does come. Thank you so much for sharing.

— added by jodi on Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 1:27 pm

I remember being so in awe of the Swami back when Nat was entering this phase. I cannot imagine being as skillful.

— added by Donna on Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Would it be TMI to give us more details on how you handled teaching the clean-up aspect?

— added by Anom Mom on Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 10:26 am

I don’t know. The thing is, it’s Nat’s life. I used to discuss it publicly, before I realized that he might understand what’s being said. In my first book, I do talk about it a little (Making Peace With Autism, Trumpeter, 2006).

— added by Susan Senator on Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Thanks. I read MPWA when it first came out but don’t remember that part. I’ll have to take another look.

— added by Anom Mom on Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm

My son is 3 an because of how badly his autism causes him to touch his penis his pediatrician said that treatment would not work or help an I took him to 3other specialists and they all said the same thing and basicly have to not let him know you know he’s doing it he does it all day every day I don’t mindhe does this because it know it is something he cannot control at all it is everybody else that does not understand why he does this and Iwish they would it’s like if they had a disability they couldn’t control I wouldn’t say point star at you so why do you do that to him its not right how mean and rouid some people can be and he does it all the time when he eats plays video games computer watching tv even when he’s sleeping but thats how my son is thank you.

— added by jl on Saturday, January 10, 2015 at 10:51 pm

If you have a child that does this I would like to hear your comments thank you.

— added by jl on Saturday, January 10, 2015 at 10:58 pm

Oh, wow. Your son is only 3 and people are concerned about this?? What 3 year old doesn’t touch himself and do all sorts of things to learn about the world, to feel good? As long as he continues to learn about appropriate public behavior — over time, not right away! — what is the big deal? I agree with you, it is on the others to not be rude.

You are right, that is what your son does for now, that is how he is for now, and he is lucky his mom understands him! He is so young, he will learn the socially acceptable stuff as he goes along but people should not shame him for this. He’s practically a baby. 🙁 I’d say give him time, lovingly remind him “time and a place for everything,” once in a while but I think if you can eventually teach him maybe to take breaks to do it, to go in his room, that might work. But if not, don’t you think he’ll eventually figure this out? Like I said, he’s only three…

— added by Susan Senator on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 7:44 am

Thank you lots

— added by jl on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 12:03 pm

Really, it’s only an issue when he hits puberty. He’s lots of time to learn the acceptable behavior — that’s when it matters, when he’s getting to be a young man. Not at 3.

— added by Susan Senator on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 12:22 pm

Yes mys sons only 3 but most dasy theres no getting thriugh to him because of his autism and how badly it causes him to touch his penis and when I give him a bath I make sure to check and clan it good to make sure nothing is wrong there I was told because of the way he is that the help that is out there like ABA will not work for my son in his case and is some that I’m going to have to live with and I have I don’t mind he does this because I know it is somthing he can’t control at all once so ever it’s that bad and somthing all moms shouldn’t do if your child is like this thank god I don’t thank you.

— added by jl on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 6:28 pm

Hes also was recently diagnosed with ADHD so let alone having both is hard for him just having one or the other is hard enough for some people and his ADHD is really bad but they don’t whan to give him medication yet because his pediatrician said he’s still to little for the medication about his ADHD both of those togeather is what makes it hard for him thats why he does what he does and as they say a mom knows there child and believe me I do I have to because of the way he is thank you.

— added by jl on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 6:56 pm

I would like to know your comment please thank you.

— added by jl on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 6:59 pm

I think you are very wise about your little boy and you need to stay firm about this. Above all, he is so young, he needs acceptance. He needs you to teach him about the world and life, and very slowly he will come to realize what to do and what not to do. He needs patience not shaming. Keep up the good work! 🙂

— added by Susan Senator on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 7:45 pm

Just to shut my mom up about why my son gruns when he touches his penis is it because he having a hard time/truble breathing when he touches his penis which my mom seems to think or is it somthing else I just keep telling he you don’t understand thank you.

— added by jl on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 9:29 pm

I would like to know your comment please thank you.

— added by jl on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 9:32 pm

Maybe take him to the pediatrician to be sure all is well physically?

— added by Susan Senator on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 9:36 pm

Actually I have an appointment with the pediatrician tomorrow and I will ask him about it thank you.

— added by jl on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 9:44 pm

I think it comes from the sensation of his hypersensitivity with his penis when the his touching it but to be sure I will ask the pediatrician tomorrow at his appointment

— added by jl on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 9:50 pm

I would like to know your comment please.

— added by jl on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 9:50 pm

just wait for the doctor appointment. I’m not a doctor or a specialist of any kind, just another mom.

— added by Susan Senator on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 9:54 pm

Ok then thats what I’ll do thank you.

— added by jl on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at 9:56 pm

I took him to his pediatrician and his pediatrician sent us to a specialist and the specialist ran some oxygen level tests to see how oxygen much he was getting and found out when he touches/plays with his penis his oxygen levels go way lo and the specialist said that why every time he does this he is grunting so the specialist percribes him an oxygen mask to whear so when he touches/plays with his penis he can breathe and not be grunting all the time when he does this turns out my mom was right about my son having trubel breathing but thank you.

— added by jl on Friday, January 16, 2015 at 2:34 am