By Yadira V. Calderon
I am often extremely concerned with the statistics of children with special needs that experience abuse at a higher rate compared to their non-disabled peers. But stats lack purpose and reality for me, and I rarely find them meaningful or interesting.
As a parent of a child with special needs, I am compelled to highlight my concern and to create awareness and sensitization to the ones that face molestation, to be a voice for the voiceless and innocent who are robbed of the joy of growing up in an emotionally and physically healthful way.
As a young child, I grew up with lots of excitement and joy, developing a solid mental strength, and having high expectations for life because there was nothing much to worry about.
But all of my expectations were cut short when I was sexually molested twice at the tender ages of 6 and 11 by two different men.
Even though it happened long ago, it still feels like it happened yesterday.
Now I feel like I’m in a race against time to make sure that my daughter does not join the ranks of the abused ones, those children without a voice.
Why am I reacting now? Their plight is my plight. The abuse I experienced took from me the confidence I needed to grow up fulfilling all of my potential. I must do all that is in my power to make sure that my daughter never experiences abuse of any kind because these events took too much from me.
I was robbed and deprived of the opportunity to:
- grow up learning to trust both males and females;
- engage in healthy social interactions with males of different ages;
- feel comfortable, respected and considered an equal by my male peers;
- learn about dating and to fall in love without fear;
- know that I must love myself at all times.
Up till today, my daughter has not been robbed of any of the above, and I am so very relieved of that fact. But now, even though she is still young, she is getting bigger. I’m recognizing that my child and I share some similarities and differences, some of which are:
- I did not grow up being labeled as a kid with special needs, but in society’s eyes, my daughter is labeled as one;
- I always felt different from everyone else, and some social situations make my daughter question the fact that she feels so different from others;
- I had self-esteem issues regarding my body. My daughter has a healthy and intact self-esteem;
- I was a leader in my classrooms. My daughter shows promising signs of being a leader in the making;
- I had dreams. My daughter has even greater and more grandiose dreams.
Few knew about my untold story of sexual abuse, and as a young adult, friends who knew about it asked the question: “Didn’t you know it was wrong?” What could I say? I didn’t know.
It ought to be mandatory to teach our children to be aware of what sexual abuse is. We don’t want our kids growing up to distrust every adult, but they need to know the difference between right and wrong behavior: the barrier between healthy interactions and touching, and the evils of sexual abuse.
In my case, nobody taught me that what I went through was wrong, and so I vowed, even as a child, to never let it happen again to either myself or someone I loved.
I am teaching my daughter about inappropriate touching, loving, respecting herself and speaking out when something feels wrong, and avoidance of being in an enclosure with the opposite sex.
I grew up
- with emotional boundaries;
- with weight problems;
- believing every interaction with a male must result in a sexual encounter;
- believing life would be like every romantic movie I ever saw;
- as a victim of the emotional imbalance due to the abuse I experienced.
Did I break out of this pattern? Yes, I have. I was given the opportunity to realize I must love myself, so I jumped and embraced it. This was for me, a source of emotional rewards, fulfillment of dreams, satisfaction as an individual, and a soothing relief from my traumatic experience.
At age 48, in many ways, the repercussions of victimization still linger, but I refuse to let it define me. Like most of us, I still make mistakes, I still feel impotent, and my thoughts often render me incapacitated at times. But my daughter with special needs is making headway and breaking the pattern.
She opens a new door and creates greater purpose that goes beyond the power of motherhood. I am not only her mother, I am her voice as she learns about the world in a limited yet magical way, and this has empowered me to protect her.
I claim my daughter’s right to LIVE and proclaim that she will NEVER face the barbarities of sexual abuse like I did. Right now, our voices scream at any prospective abuser and anyone suspicious of this evil act: “Stay away! Stop robbing innocence! Stop victimizing! Stop the evil act!”
One day, my daughter will read these words, and I know she will be proud of me. I imagine that she will express satisfaction and share the rewards of her fulfilled dreams and a life well-lived.
Talk for the Voiceless Now!
Yadira reveals her abuse and seeks heightened protections for kids with special needs
*Yadira V. Calderon has been eating, breathing, sleeping, challenging and accepting autism for the past five years. She is a dedicated warrior, director of short films and author of the soon to be published Autism: The Happy Kingdom. She holds a M.A. International Relations and Diplomacy, speaks three languages and has lived in six countries, having travelled to another twenty-seven. Her friends know she is determined, persistent, positive, creative, open-minded and realistic, she believes none of these attributes could ever have prepared her to become the mother of seven year-old Thomais. She provides day to day support to adults with special needs. WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | YOUTUBE