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Today’s post is from u/RealAbstractSquidII who answers the question: “What are the rules around relationships for disabled children/adults?”
Actually, the girls parents can’t determine consent for her. Although speaking to the parents about this girls level of disability should be priority.
I work for an agency that assists disabled children and adults. Being non verbal isn’t a problem when it comes to consent. Many non verbal disabled children and adults are aware of themselves and competent to make their own choices. Many have their own way of communicating, such as sign language or language boards. Plenty of adults go on to have very meaningful relationships despite the difficulty communication may bring. However, communication is NOT A sign that a disabled person can consent to sex or sex related activity.
The questions to ask are, does this girl have a firm understanding of consent? Where is she at mentally? To figure this out a mental health professional as well as a physician must assess the individual in question. You as a parent cannot decide this(except of course deciding to have your child assessed). And there are some very strict rules regarding consent with mentally impaired individuals.
This is because on average, 80% of impaired/disabled females are sexually assaulted or abused and 30 to 40% of impaired/disabled males are sexually assaulted or abused.
Disabled teens and adults are allowed to date and most of their rights remain in tact. However one partner cannot be of higher functioning then the other due to power imbalances. Similar to why a teacher cannot date a legal aged student. There is wiggle room for abuse.
For example a very low functioning autistic person cannot legally date or have sexual contact with an average functioning person regardless of age due to the vulnerability that disabled person faces. Even if the disabled persons parents or guardian consents. This is abuse and that parent or guardian can face criminal charges. So even if the disabled person is 18, or has ,”permission”, they cannot legally consent because they don’t understand what consent is and don’t understand sex or the risks that come with it like pregnancy and STDs.
Two very low functioning autistic persons cannot engage in sex, as neither one of them understands consent and both are at risk of abuse. Even if both parents or guardians consent, this is still abuse and allowing it to happen can result in criminal charges. Their limited understanding of the act or its risks prevents them from being able to consent legally.
However if both persons, regardless of disability, are legally deemed able to consent then they can do as they please. Such as a high functioning person dating a non disabled partner or two high functioning partners dating.
If this girl is not deemed by a professional able to consent then OPs son, as well as the adults involved, can face serious consequences for sex related crimes against This girl. Now from the post im not exactly sure where she would fall in all of this. If she is only able to request items and state her basic needs as OP mentioned in a comment, and her physical tics are harmful to others, there is a higher chance that she may not be able to consent to dating someone or engaging in sexual activity. Low functioning disabled persons are typically able to indicate when they need or want something. By their own speech, sign language, language boards or other helpers/tics. But being able to say you are thirsty or need a blanket does not mean that you understand dating, sex or the implications those bring.
Additionally her physical tics, While entirely not her fault, are not safe for OPs son and due to his physical inability to prevent harm to himself, this relationship may not be legal anyway. Just as this girls ability to consent is a failsafe meant to protect her, there are other failsafes for physically disabled people. Even though OPs son might not have a mental disability, he is physically disabled and also vulnerable.
These types of situations are incredibly difficult and can be hard to navigate. It would be in both parents best interests to speak to a professional if they haven’t already to see what type of relationships are and arent safe for the teens involved. OP because while her son has no mental disabilities he is still a vulnerable soon to be adult. He is still at risk of abuse. And this girls parents because her mental and physical disabilities leave her incredibly vulnerable to abuse or unsafe situations. Her limited speech capability would make it difficult to understand if something bad happened to her.
As parents it is your job to ensure the safety of your children and this can mean monitoring who they interact with. Neither teen in this situation is bad or wrong. And its perfectly fine legally for them to be friends and hang out. However relationships and sex are a different story depending on a lot of factors involved in both teens diagnosis.
Edit to add: while OPs son and this girl may not have been having sex (that we as readers know of), the act of calling this a relationship and the 2 having unsupervised time (if the girls mental state is not able to consent and unsupervised time was allowed) still opens OP and her son up to legal trouble. The problem here is that the officials that monitor these types of situations are looking for 1) what COULD happen and 2) what HAS happened. As well as what is being done to mitigate risk.
Its important to get ahead of this type of situation early on and nip any chance of abuse or an abuse allegation in the bud. Further, the girl harming OPs son is qualified as physical abuse. Even though she isn’t doing it to be mean and she may not even be aware of this tic. Allowing OPs son to continually be harmed by her is neglect/abuse on OPs side. So while disallowing their friendship is a bit of a low blow she still needs to protect her minor and physically vulnerable son. As this could open OP up to legal issues. Especially if hes going to school or the Drs with bruises. As these officials are mandated reporters and the governing body sent to oversee an accusation will want to know why a known physical risk was still allowed to happen.
That being said theres totally no problem with the 2 teens being friends so long as OPs son is being protected from physical harm and both teens are being protected from possible sexual harm. They can hang out and support each other..and if they view one another as friends should be allowed to maintain that friendship. Being a teen is hard. Being a disabled teen is harder and can lead to a lot of feelings of isolation and depression.