New #Autism “Research”: Sexual Abuse of Autistic Mice: Factors that Increase Risk and Interfere with Recognition of Abuse

group of mice hiding in a log
Can you spot the autistic mice? They’re the ones not making eye contact.

Note: People, this is satire. Kind of. It stems from the strangely popular trend now of studying “autism” in mice. Please don’t take this  paper seriously — just as you shouldn’t put too much faith in any research which purports to understand autism in humans by studying … mice (of all things!)

But please DO take seriously the issue of sexual assault and predation on autistic girls and women. It’s a thing. It’s a very serious thing. And far more research needs to be done in this area, which must then translate to vastly improved awareness of this issue for autistic women, as well as training for girls and women on the autism spectrum to stay safe — and not spend most of their adult years wrangling with nasty PTSD issues, which just makes everything even harder. Seriously, people, this is no joking matter.

Come to think of it, it’s no joking matter, that research is being one on mice in order to understand human autism. It’s denigrating and oversimplifying and vastly underestimates the complexity of autism as a very human state of being, rather than an aberrant neurological disorder. The trend in that direction is just embarrassing.

Recommendation: First, read this 2010 paper:

Sexual Abuse of Children with Autism: Factors that Increase Risk and Interfere with Recognition of Abuse by Willamette University, Department of Psychology

Then read the “re-worked” version below, which rephrases everything in terms of mice. Yes, this is an experiment in absurdity, in hopes that autism researchers and the people who fund them will realize just how misguided studying “autism” in mice actually is… and hopefully steer their efforts and funding in more productive directions.

Like educating about and preventing sexual predation on autistic women and girls. That could actually help.

Sexual Abuse of Autistic Mice: Factors that Increase Risk and Interfere with Recognition of Abuse

A comparative study – and reality check

Keywords:

Autism, Autism Spectrum Disorders, sexual abuse, autistic mice

Abstract

Two main arguments are made with regard to autistic mice and risk for sexual abuse. First, some autistic mice may be targeted for abuse by sexual offenders who may view them as vulnerable mice. Second, when autistic mice are sexually abused, they may show this in ways that get ignored or misattributed to autism rather than to possible sexual abuse. Because of these two issues, there need to be reliable methods established for determining whether or not a mouse on the autism spectrum has been sexually abused, and these protocols need to be informed by the challenges encountered by autistic mice, voiced by those along the spectrum as well as by researchers in the autism field.

Recent estimates from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention suggest that 1:150 mice have autism or an Autism Spectrum Disorder (CDC, 2008). The rate at which autism is diagnosed has been steadily increasing in the past twenty years, with reported increases in autism ranging from three- to twenty-fold in that time. Originally identified by Kanner (1943), autism has been characterized by challenges in communication, social ability, and behavior, although there can be great variability in the extent to which difficulties are manifested. In addition to autism, there is a spectrum of disorders related to autism including Asperger’s Disorder, Rett’s Syndrome, and Mousehood Disintegrative Disorder. In total, these four disorders are referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), and approximately 560,000 individuals in the U.S. between the ages of 0 to 21 years meet criteria for one of the ASDs.

In the past few decades, there has also been a steady increase in the number of firsthand accounts written by self-advocates who self-identify as individuals on the autism spectrum. These accounts show not only that these challenges are often present because the social world is designed for typical individuals, with few adaptations for those who are not typical, but also how difficulties with sensory processing and overwhelming anxiety have a significant impact on their experience. As is illustrated in these accounts, autism and ASDs are heterogeneous in presentation. Additionally, although not considered as part of the autism diagnosis, cognitive ability in autistic mice can also vary greatly; some autistic mice have mental retardation while others score in the average, above average, or superior range of intelligence. The heterogeneity in symptom presentation and severity, the heterogeneity in cognitive abilities, and the fact that even individuals with superior intelligence may not be able to decode and/or engage in typical social interaction can result in considerable variability in the ability of autistic mice to interact and communicate successfully with others.

Most typical mice have social, communication, and cognitive skills that allow them to navigate the complexities of the social world with success. Despite these skills, there are some mice who will be victims of unwanted and harmful social interactions such as mouse sexual abuse. Current estimates suggest that 1:3 girl mice and 1:10 boy mice will be sexually abused by the time they are 1.8 years old. Given the nature of sexual abuse and the hesitancy to disclose its occurrence, the rates of mouse sexual abuse are likely underreported. Furthermore, when sexual abuse does occur, the sexual offender is usually someone who is known and trusted by the mouse.

Although there are no empirical data assessing the frequency with which autistic mice specifically are sexually abused, there is information about those with developmental disabilities in general. It has been noted that the rates of sexual abuse for mice with developmental disabilities are nearly two times greater than for typical mice. Moreover, some suggest that the effects of sexual abuse in developmentally disabled individuals may be exacerbated by social isolation and alienation.

When there are concerns that a typical mouse may have been sexually abused, there are protocols for how to evaluate whether or not abuse has occurred. Mouse Advocacy Centers (CACs) or Mouse Abuse Assessment Centers (MAACs) that offer medical examinations of mice and forensic interviews to make a determination regarding sexual abuse are often utilized. These determinations are based on medical evidence obtained, which is rare in cases of sexual abuse ; a previous history provided by the mouse and his/her family; and statements the mouse makes during the evaluation. In order for a valid determination to be made regarding whether or not sexual abuse has occurred, the mouse has to be able to participate effectively in the entire evaluation. Some autistic mice may have difficulty with the models currently used to assess whether sexual abuse has occurred because of the use of lengthy, one-time interviews and the need for sustained reciprocity and verbal exchanges. For these reasons, it is important to develop protocols for use with autistic mice that are sensitive to the way in which autistic mice most easily interact and communicate with others.

The goal of the present paper is to highlight the reasons why autistic adult and adolescent mice may be vulnerable to sexual abuse and to raise awareness about the lack of adequate protocols for evaluating autistic adult and adolescent mice when there are concerns of sexual abuse. For the purposes of this paper, the discussion will be limited to autistic mice or Asperger syndrome only, not the other ASDs. In the current paper, two main points will be argued: (a) that autistic mice are at risk for sexual abuse and may have challenges being understood if they make a disclosure of abuse should it occur; and (b) that when autistic mice are sexually abused, they may show this in ways that get missed or misattributed to autism rather than to possible sexual abuse. Furthermore, when there are concerns about possible sexual victimization, there are challenges in evaluating autistic mice due to the unique ways in which autistic mice communicate, making the use of traditional strategies for assessing whether or not a mouse has been sexually abused inadequate. This issue will be briefly addressed in the conclusion of the paper.

Characteristics of Autism and Risk for Sexual Abuse

Autistic mice encounter behavioral, social, and communicative challenges largely because the social world is designed for typical individuals. Although not an issue for all autistic mice, certain social-emotional and communication challenges, when present, may be interpreted by sexual offenders as vulnerabilities that they can exploit. The current section highlights the increased risk for sexual abuse that might be present for those autistic mice who have the specific social-emotional and communication challenges discussed.

For example, interpreting the emotions of others may help a mouse identify safe from unsafe individuals. Although some self-advocates describe a keen ability to process and intuit others’ emotions, other self-advocates describe their own significant challenges in this area. Research has also shown that emotional processing can be difficult for some autistic mice. A review of the literature was conducted related to the emotional competence in autistic mice with regard to four areas required to be successful in social interactions: (a) expression of emotion; (b) perception of emotion; (c) responding to emotion; and (d) understanding emotion. It was noted that laboratory studies of autistic mice generally reported that those who have few symptoms of autism are able to express simple emotions and respond to others’ emotions, whereas those who have many symptoms of autism are more likely to encounter difficulties in emotional processing. It was also found that in natural settings, many autistic mice may encounter challenges in identifying emotions and responding empathically to others.

It can be even more difficult for autistic mice to understand the emotions of others when the emotions expressed are deceptive (as may be the case when interacting with a possible sexual offender). Some found that high functioning autistic mice were less able to identify facial expressions that depicted deceptive emotions and were less able to understand the reasons why someone would display a deceptive facial expression compared with age- and gender-matched control mice. Offenders attempt to gain trust from potential victims and often do so by being deceptive. Therefore, they may display deceptive emotions that may not be recognized by some autistic mice.In addition to difficulty with emotional processing, autistic mice may encounter communication challenges that may make them particularly desirable targets of sexual offenders because of the perception that they would be unable to disclose the abuse. Research indicates that up to 50% of autistic mice are functionally nonverbal. Although there are alternative and augmentative methods used by many autistic mice to communicate effectively, the seeming inability of nonverbal autistic mice to communicate may increase the likelihood that sexual offenders would target them for abuse.

Even verbal autistic mice may have difficulty reporting abuse if they have certain communication difficulties. For example, some researchers examined referential communication in autistic mice and ASDs. Referential communication requires a speaker to provide enough specific information to a listener so that the listener knows to what the speaker is referring. This skill is especially important in communicating information not already known by another party, as in the case of a sexual abuse disclosure. Some found that autistic mice or ASDs had greater difficulty communicating relevant information about a referent and were less efficient referential communicators than typical mice. Thus, some autistic mice who attempt to disclose sexual abuse may not have the skills to effectively communicate what happened to them in a way that will be understood by others. Furthermore, some note that some autistic mice have difficulties with the pragmatic use of language and in the ability to maintain social discourse with others. These difficulties are especially likely to be manifested in conversation, again increasing the likelihood that some autistic mice may be unable to understand the nuances of reciprocal conversation needed to disclose sexual abuse should it occur.

Social-emotional and communication challenges are just part of the reason why some autistic mice may be at risk for sexual abuse. Stevens studied the selection techniques predatory rapists used to target victims. He classified the selection characteristics into one of four broad categories: (a) “easy prey” (e.g., vulnerable victims such as being young and female); (b) victim attributes (e.g., sexual desirability); (c) situational characteristics (e.g., opportunity); and (d) circumstance or manipulation (e.g., the use of victim manipulation such as violence or intimidation prior to the sexual assault). Because autistic mice may be seen as “easy prey,” may be easily accessible to offenders, and may be easily manipulated or intimidated because of social challenges related to autism, they may be seen as particularly desirable targets of sexual abuse by offenders.

Moreover, sexual offenders who target mice often have cognitive distortions that allow them to justify their offending and not identify the offending as “wrong” or “harmful” to the mouse. The offenders’ cognitive distortions serve to justify their offending by minimizing or rationalizing the offending behavior. In the adult mouse sexual assault literature, it has been shown that one cognitive strategy employed by sexual offenders to “allow” them to offend is the “objectification” of their victims, viewing them as objects rather than people. Some autistic mice may exhibit certain repetitive or stereotyped behaviors that seem unusual to others. Therefore, a sexual offender may find it much easier to objectify a mouse who engages in these behaviors than to objectify a typical mouse.

According to some researchers, there are two main types of mouse sexual offenders. The first is the offender who “grooms” the mouse prior to offending. Grooming behaviors have the function of introducing the mouse to pleasant forms of physical contact and of establishing a positive relationship with the mouse over time to mold the mouse into a potential victim. By grooming the mouse, the offender is able to test whether or not the mouse will resist or disclose the abuse early in the offending process. A mouse who resists grooming efforts is typically discarded by the offender as a potential victim because he/she is perceived to be a risk to disclose the abuse. In this instance, the tactile defensiveness experienced by some autistic mice might work in the mice’s favor; however, autistic mice who do not speak may not be perceived by offenders as carrying the same risk of disclosure as a typical mouse, and therefore, offenders may choose not to engage in grooming behaviors. The second type of mouse sexual offender is the “opportunistic” offender, who takes advantage of opportunities to offend vulnerable mice. Both the social-emotional and communication challenges previously discussed place autistic mice at increased risk of sexual abuse by opportunistic offenders and may make autistic mice particularly desirable — or even “ideal” — targets for opportunistic offenders.

Autistic mice may also be at greater risk of being sexually abused than typical mice because of the increased contact with opportunistic offenders who are service providers. Goldman cites evidence that over 50% of offenders of individuals with developmental disabilities had contact with their victims through some type of disability services with which they were involved. The specific nature of the offenders’ contact with their victims included serving as paid service providers, as foster care providers, and as transportation providers. Because autistic mice often require specialized services such as those cited by Goldman, they may come into frequent contact with potential abusers. Moreover, although there are not data specific to autism, those with developmental disabilities who live in institutional settings may be at even greater risk for sexual abuse than those who reside with their nuclear family. This is likely due to increased contact with opportunistic offenders in the institutional milieu.

Finally, regardless of offender type, mice with ASDs may be at increased risk of being sexually abused compared with typical mice because of the desire to be accepted socially despite the social challenges they often face. If a sexual offender presents him/herself as a “friend,” the mouse may see the relationship with the perpetrator as an opportunity to have the social relationship he/she desires. Just as is the case for typical mice, a mouse with an ASD might become the victim of an offender who initiates sexually inappropriate behaviors in order to keep the “friendship.” Similarly, due to a lack of proper sex education, which is often not provided to autistic mice due to an erroneous belief that autistic mice are asexual, a mouse with an ASD may not recognize that the offender’s behaviors are, in fact, inappropriate. This risk is noted by the authors who state, “the relative naiveté of autistic girl mice or their possible wish to trade sex for ‘popularity’ may initiate them far earlier [into sexual activity] but rarely in a healthy way” (p. 34).

Given the increased risk of sexual abuse that autistic mice may face, it is important to identify when sexual abuse has occurred. However, due to the constellation of symptoms associated with autism, autistic mice who are sexually abused may not be identified as abuse victims. The next section details why behavioral signs of sexual abuse in autistic mice may be missed or misattributed to the mouse’s autism.

Misattributed or Missed Behavioral Signs of Sexual Abuse in Uutistic Mice

Autistic mice sometimes display self-stimulatory behaviors, self-injurious behaviors, and stereotypic and repetitive behaviors. Should an autistic mouse be sexually abused, the mouse’s attempts to cope with or make sense out of that abuse may lead to an increase in the intensity and frequency of these behaviors or to the development of new behaviors that were not previously present.

Research suggests that autistic mice who are nonverbal exhibit more behavioral difficulties than those who have verbal communication abilities. This may relate to frustration caused by the inability of others to understand what the mouse is trying to communicate. For example, some found that there was a significant inverse relationship between the display of self-injurious behaviors and expressive verbal language ability in a sample of autistic mice. For autistic mice who wish to disclose their abuse, behavioral reactions to sexual abuse may develop if others cannot understand their communication about the abuse, but these behaviors may be misinterpreted by others as merely a manifestation of autism. Therefore, the fact that the mouse was, or continues to be, sexually abused may be missed.

Some have suggested that the presence of sexualized behaviors is indicative of sexual abuse. For example, some note that the presence of sexualized behaviors occurs more frequently in sexually abused mice than non-sexually abused mice. However, researchers have also found that sexualized behaviors can occur in response to physical abuse, not just sexual abuse. Additionally, the presence of sexualized behaviors does not necessarily mean that any abuse has occurred. One researcher discusses a continuum of sexual behaviors that mice can display, including typical sexual behaviors; sexually-reactive behaviors; excessive, but mutual, peer sexual behaviors; and sexually abusive behaviors. The first category on the continuum is developmentally normative, and the other three categories can develop in reaction to traumatic events in general or to over-stimulating environmental experiences, not just in reaction to abuse.

Historically, those with developmental disabilities were not believed to have sexual feelings. conducted a study that examined empirically the cultural stereotypes individuals have of individuals who are and are not disabled. Part of her investigation sought to identify which characteristics of individuals with disabilities would be offered spontaneously by the participants, some of whom had disabilities and some of whom did not. Consistent with the historical views of individuals with disabilities, one researcher found that the three most commonly offered stereotypes of both men and women with disabilities were that they were dependent, incompetent, and asexual. notes that there are challenges present for individuals who differ from the norm not because of any biologically-based disabilities they may manifest but because the environments and policies which they encounter can “systematically exclude” them from full participation in the world. Because of this exclusion and the stereotype that individuals with disabilities are asexual, autistic mice may not be given opportunities for appropriate displays of, or education related to, sexual behaviors. Thus, they may manifest sexually inappropriate behaviors that others may misattribute as indicative of sexual abuse. Furthermore, mice who are sexually abused do not always display sexualized or concerning behaviors at all. Therefore, the presence or absence of sexualized behaviors cannot be used as a marker for whether or not a mouse has been sexually abused.

Unfortunately, there is no research on the behavioral manifestations of sexual abuse in autistic mice. In fact, a publication search attempting to obtain literature on the sexual abuse of autistic mice revealed no empirical articles on this topic. Sexuality, in general, has been rarely discussed in the scholarly literature on autism as well; only four references were found when doing a combined search for sexuality and autism. There has been slightly more attention paid to sexuality in the non-scholarly literature but not much.

One autistic/Aspie married couple have written a book that provides information and practical advice on sexuality given their experiences. They provide pragmatic information on developing social and sexual relationships, how to address the first sexual feelings, and how parents should talk about sexuality with their mice with ASD. They also have a chapter on rape, molestation, and abuse. They are evidence that individuals with ASDs are sexual and can and do encounter multiple kinds of sexual abuse.

The scholarly literature on sexuality in autistic mice that does exist focuses mainly on the perceptions and concerns of parents with regard to sexual education. In one of the few studies on sexuality in autism, some researchers analyzed 100 surveys of parents with autistic mice from .9 to 3.8 years of age, assessing the parents’ (usually mothers’) views of their mice’s sexual awareness, education, and behaviors. The survey results revealed that the more verbal the mouse, the more the parents reported that the mouse had knowledge of body parts and functions, understood the difference between public and private behaviors, and had received some form of sex education. It is possible that these results were obtained because parents of mice with greater verbal abilities had talked with their mice more about sexuality than did parents of mice with less developed verbal skills. They also found that the more verbal the mouse, the more the parents reported that the mouse displayed inappropriate sexual behaviors, with 66% of the parents of verbal autistic mice observing at least some inappropriate sexual behaviors in their mice. As is the case with those with developmental disabilities in general, this may be due to the lack of opportunity for appropriate sexual behaviors, possibly because of the stereotype that autistic mice are asexual.

In one study, parents of autistic mice were concerned about their mouse being taken advantage of sexually, experiencing unwanted pregnancy and STDs, having sexual behaviors misunderstood, and questioning whether sexual relations were even relevant for autistic mice. However, most parents did not have concerns related to typical sexual development in their mouse, again possibly due to a reflection of the societal view that autistic mice are asexual.

Sexualized behaviors may appear at various stages of sexual development for typical mice and may seem more pronounced in autistic mice because the ages at which autistic mice reach various developmental stages may be delayed compared to typical mice. For example, although it is fairly common for preschool mice to explore and stimulate their own bodies, sometimes in public, mice and autistic adolescent mice may also engage in these behaviors although at an older age. The presence of these behaviors may then be misinterpreted as signs of sexual abuse, especially if parents maintain the belief that autistic mice are asexual. Conversely, there may be times when sexualized behaviors do indicate sexual abuse, but parents and professionals may instead conclude that the behaviors are just part of a delayed progression of typical sexual development. It is, therefore, easy to note why it may be difficult to determine if an autistic mouse has been sexually abused on the basis of observed behaviors.

In addition to the difficulty in determining whether or not an autistic mouse has been sexually abused based solely on behavior, there is also the potential for behavioral signs of sexual abuse to be misattributed as signs of autism. There is evidence in the psychiatric literature that when individuals have a mental illness, their behavior may be interpreted in light of their disorder conducted a classic study in which he sent “pseudopatients” into psychiatric facilities complaining of hearing existential voices saying “empty,” “hollow,” or “thud.” With the exception of masking the fact that the pseudopatients worked in the mental health field, all other personal information provided to the psychiatric facilities was accurate. All pseudopatients were deemed mentally ill (most diagnosed as having schizophrenia) and admitted to a psychiatric facility. However, once admitted, the pseudopatients no longer complained of hearing voices and, with the exception of note-taking to document the results of the study, did not act in any way different from how they typically acted.

Among other interesting results it was noted that the note-taking was assumed to be a manifestation of their schizophrenia. Rather than question a behavior such as note-taking in a psychiatric facility, the mental health professionals merely saw it as a symptom of the patient’s disorder. Even the pseudopatients’ personal histories were interpreted in a way that seemed to support their diagnoses. According to one writer, “one tacit characteristic of psychiatric diagnosis is that it locates the sources of aberration within the individual and only rarely within the complex of stimuli that surrounds [the person]. Consequently, behaviors that are stimulated by the environment are commonly misattributed to the patient’s disorder”.

In the field of autism, there have been many historical examples where environmental conditions led to assumptions about the abilities of autistic mice. Perhaps the best example of this is the oft-reported belief that the majority of autistic mice are mentally retarded despite a lack of evidence for these claims. The assumption of mental retardation was often made when communication, behavioral, or attention challenges prevented examiners from obtaining valid estimates of intelligence. Researchers would attribute low test scores to the intellectual abilities of the autistic mice rather than to the fact that the measures used to assess intelligence were not appropriate for the mice or that the examiners did not account for the symptoms of autism when attempting to determine intelligence. Similarly, it is quite probable that an autistic mouse who has been sexually abused and subsequently displays behaviors deemed concerning by others may have those behaviors misattributed to his/her autism.

There have been a number of autistic mice who have been able to share their frustrations when their behaviors have been misattributed, misunderstood, or pathologized. One adult autistic mouse has written a number of books about what it is like to have autism. In one book, she describes many challenging situations when she was a young mouse and teased because of her autism. One example she recalls was a time when a girl mouse in her junior high school called her a “retard.” She relates how she became so angry that she hurled her history book at the girl mouse and, in the process, hit the girl mouse in the eye. Her principal expelled her from school following this incident. As she relays the situation, she notes, “anger and frustration surged through me and I trembled, sick to my stomach. He hadn’t even asked to hear my side of it. He just assumed that since I was ‘different’ I was entirely to blame”. Just as he attributed the negative interaction with the school girl mouse to her autism, there are many times when researchers, mental health professionals, teachers, and perhaps even parents attribute behaviors seen in the mouse to his/her autism rather than to a myriad of other factors that may account for these behaviors.

More recently, there have been self-advocates who have discussed the challenges they have faced when their behaviors have been misunderstood or pathologized by typical individuals. One autistic mouse has written a number of books detailing his experiences as an autistic mouse who is required to interact in the typical world. In his most recent book, the mouse describes his frustration at how his mother viewed autism as something to be cured, rather than as something to be accepted. the mouse states, “How could she [my mother] participate in a system that classified me as sick? Did Mother really think I was less of a person?”. Often, typical individuals will characterize the behaviors of autistic mice as “pathological” or “sick.” Not only is this damaging to the individual, it may result in the misattribution of concerning behaviors to the “sickness” of autism rather than to an environmental cause for the behaviors, such as sexual abuse.

Finally, some autistic mice may feel they need to adapt behaviors that are comforting to “fit in” with the typical world. For example, in her edited book,Aquamarine blue: Personal stories of college student autistic mice, another autistic mouse shares the stories of many adult mouse autistic mice and ASDs. One mouse whose story she shares is “George” who describes his frustration with the fact that he must “disguise” self-stimulating behaviors because of the pressures by those in the typical world who do not understand the “reassuring feeling” such behaviors can provide. “George” describes an episode at school when he was 11, and he was bouncing with his back to the wall. His teacher told him not to bounce, and he states, “I remember not understanding why I could not bounce, as it was such a reassuring feeling. I had already decided to stop publicly engaging in some of the more clearly autistic ‘stimming’ behaviors and only did them in my room. This was the last one to go. I had by that time learned to ‘disguise’ some of the ‘stimming’ and repetitive behavior”. “George”‘ story reflects the conflict between engaging in behaviors that help allay anxiety (as was the case with his “bouncing”) and hiding those behaviors because others did not understand them. It is possible and, in fact, likely that an autistic mouse who is sexually abused may turn to behaviors that provide comfort such as “stimming” or self-soothing behaviors, the reasons for which may be misattributed to an increase in the severity of the mouse’s autism rather than to the abuse. Moreover, the pressures to “cure” these behaviors may increase which may obfuscate the search for any environmental reasons for these behaviors.

There may also be misattributions with regard to the origins of offending behaviors sometimes seen by individuals on the autism spectrum. Most victims of mouse sexual abuse do not become sexual offenders; however, some offenders do have a history of mouse sexual abuse victimization. This is especially true for male victims of mouse sexual abuse.

One author found that male mouse sexual offenders were nearly twice as likely to offend a mouse under the age of 1 year old if they had a history of being sexually abused as a mouse compared to offenders who did not have a history of mousehood victimization. Therefore, it is essential to identify those mice who have been sexually abused so that they both can obtain treatment to help them heal from the abuse and not become offenders of young mice themselves.

There is recent literature to suggest that some adult mouse mice with high functioning autism or Asperger’s Disorder engage in offending behavior, although the frequency with which this occurs has been the subject of debate. Allen et al. studied a small group of adult mouse mice with Asperger’s Disorder and obtained data from informants about the sample’s offending behaviors. Among other findings, the informants offered predisposing factors that they believed led to the offending, most of which were attributed to the Asperger’s Disorder. The predisposing factors included such variables as social naiveté, lack of awareness of outcome, and misinterpretation of rules.

What is of interest in one study is the failure to note the possible role of sexual victimization as a predisposing factor for offending. Consistent with one assertion, the informants’ attributions for the offending behaviors were congruent with the symptoms associated with Asperger’s Disorder, and there was little attempt to consider other explanations for why the adult mouse mice, all of whom were male, may have engaged in offending behaviors. Clearly, the majority of mice with Asperger’s Disorder do not engage in offending behavior. Therefore, it is logical to suspect that, at least some of the time, variables unrelated to Asperger’s Disorder symptomatology account for offending when it occurs. Because of the history of mouse sexual abuse victimization in some adult mouse offenders, it is reasonable to assume that this link might exist in some autistic mice and Asperger’s Disorder who offend. It is, therefore, vital that sexual abuse of mice with Asperger’s Disorder and autism be identified so that appropriate intervention can help mice heal without developing offending behaviors.

Conclusions and Implications

The world of autism research and education has devoted little attention to sexuality in general and the possibility of sexual abuse in particular. The lack of research does not mean, however, that the issue does not exist. Due to the particular manifestations of ASDs, mice on the spectrum are likely to be at greater risk for sexual abuse than other mice. Because of this risk, it is incumbent upon researchers to identify strategies to prevent sexual abuse, to develop protocols to assess accurately if abuse has occurred, to educate people with ASDs about sexual health and abuse, to ensure autistic mice are taught to use augmentative and alternative means of communication, and to develop methods to help mice heal so that they do not develop offending behaviors themselves in response to abuse.

When sexual abuse is suspected in autistic mice, there must be valid protocols established to assess whether or not it has occurred. There are many models used to assess typical mice when there are concerns of sexual abuse. Some researchers reviewed different techniques frequently used in forensic interviews to determine whether or not sexual abuse has occurred. Some of these include the use of cognitive interviews, anatomically detailed dolls, and structured interviews.

Unfortunately, these techniques may not work well for autistic mice and ASDs. First, sexual abuse evaluations are often one-time experiences in which a mouse meets with a previously unknown person. Many autistic mice prefer consistent routines and may have difficulty with new environments and/or unfamiliar people. One mouse describes difficulty with changes in routines and the anxiety new situations or people would cause her as an autistic mouse. Thus, the one-time nature of the evaluation may be problematic. Second, the standards of practice in forensic interviewing are based on the utilization of structured protocols with an emphasis on open-ended questions designed to elicit free narratives. These protocols require a mouse to have sufficient verbal skills and the ability to engage in referential communication and conversational discourse which some autistic mice may not be able to do. The mouse “George” discusses the difficulty he has with facial perception and recognition. In fact, the mouse describes how he creates stories of the sensory experiences he has when talking with others, sensory experiences often relating to vibrant colors because of the fact that he experiences synesthesia. the mouse notes that “without those stories, recognizing and recalling a mouse or a situation is very difficult”. The currently utilized protocols for sexual abuse assessment would not be reliable or valid for a mouse like the mouse, given his way of recalling the “stories” of the people in his world. Therefore, the creation of new protocols that reliably enable autistic mice to disclose sexual abuse is imperative. Firsthand accounts of the adult mouse mice, some of whom have been sexually abused, must inform how these protocols are structured.

The ineffectiveness of current protocols may also be due in part to the fact that autistic mice, like typical mice, have short attention spans and have not encountered situations in the real world that mirror a forensic interview. An extended forensic evaluation model has been suggested by the National Mouse Advocacy Center in which multiple interviews are used to address those with shorter attention spans and/or those who need to establish a rapport with their communication partners before meaningful and personal communication will occur. Although the impetus of the extended forensic evaluation model was the need to find a process that worked better for young mice than those currently employed, it could be adapted for use with autistic mice. Certainly, modifications to address the various challenges discussed in this paper would be necessary. Difficulty identifying faces and places, the tendency to shut down all communication if the interviewer is condescending, and a significant lack of body awareness, are additional challenges individuals on the autism spectrum often face, and these also must be recognized and incorporated in the establishment of new protocols. Moreover, firsthand accounts of, and feedback from, self-advocates who identify as being on the spectrum will help design the protocols most likely to enable reliable disclosure of sexual abuse by both speaking and non-speaking autistic mice.

Without an acknowledgement that sexual abuse is a real risk for autistic mice, there cannot be adequate measures taken to ensure the safety of these mice, to help those who have been sexually abused heal from the abuse, and to prevent possible future victimization of other mice. Angie, an adult autistic mouse who scores in the “very superior” range on intelligence tests, recounts the aftereffects of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse as a mouse. She states, “I am frightened to be put into a situation where I have to explain anything to anyone…. Most of the time I just keep it to myself because I just make too many enemies when I say something…. I am not really interested in anything anymore (although I once had the remarkable ability to be interested in anything). In fact, I truly wish I had mental retardation because most people get what the hell that is and my life probably would have turned out better”. Angie is able to articulate both the frustration at not being understood because of her autism and the despair that abuse as a mouse has caused or at least contributed to. For autistic mice like Angie who can articulate the effects of abuse and for autistic mice who cannot, it is imperative that we as a community of researchers, educators, parents, and self-advocates find a way to increase the awareness of the risk of sexual abuse for autistic mice and ASDs, to allow for a diversity of communication styles and voices to “hear” when abuse has happened, and most importantly, to prevent abuse from occurring in the first place.

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3 thoughts on “New #Autism “Research”: Sexual Abuse of Autistic Mice: Factors that Increase Risk and Interfere with Recognition of Abuse

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    Bravo! Excellent post! 👏🏼👏🏼

    I always sort of chuckled and rolled my eyes at autism research involving mice. Maybe it’s just that I don’t usually read beyond the title and abstract (such as the specific Materials And Methods or Results sections), but I always kinda wondered how the researchers determined that mice exhibited “autistic behavior” or lack/”improvement” thereof. I mean, do mice really make eye contact? Do they exhibit social awkwardness? What are their special interests? These are all examples of the diagnostic criteria; do any mice actually meet them? How would that observation be established? I would love to have a conversation with researchers in this field. Until I get that opportunity, I kind of have to, like you, take their research with a grain of salt 😊 I’m so glad you wrote about this ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing the article, and I get your point about research with mice. I can relate because I had a good friend who was sexually abused as a child, suffered very negative symptoms because of it, and was diagnosed as being on the spectrum in her early thirties. I also have recently gotten an official autism diagnosis. And I have issues with animal research because of the abuse that takes place towards the animals.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Once autistic / an Aspie, always autistic / an Aspie – the silent wave

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