My brother with Down syndrome is touching other kids.


Dear Stop It Now!,

My younger brother is 11 and has Down Syndrome. He has been getting in trouble for touching girls on the playground. He just pokes their butt maybe, but my mom still doesn't know what to do and I don't want it to escalate as he gets older.

They pull him off the playground when it happens, but it still seems to be a problem.

Please share your feedback

Dear Concerned Sibling,

It’s great that you’re thinking ahead when it comes to safety. I can tell that you care about your brother and want to help your mother keep him and others safe. Thank you for reaching out to us for guidance.

Share Your Concerns
It’s important to let your mother know, especially if you’re a youth, that you have these concerns about your brother’s behavior. It’s good to be proactive about safety, and modeling safe behavior can be a family effort. But because she’s the parent, it’s best for your mother to be in charge of next steps. If you’re still a youth yourself, please know that it’s the responsibility of the adults in your life to keep everyone safe. This is not something you should have to handle yourself. I hope you’ll let your mother know that you care so much that you’ve written this email and share our response.

Teaching Boundaries
While we as adults see the potential for harm in this behavior, your brother may not realize that poking someone in the butt could be any different from non-sexual behavior teasing or play. Children have a very different understanding of sexual behavior than adults, including issues like sexual safety as it relates to personal space. It’s why children sometimes need specific rules, like “no playing without your clothes on,” to help them act safely. Because your brother has Down Syndrome he may need even clearer rules and conversations about physical space to help him understand that poking someone in the butt (and similar behaviors) isn’t okay.

Evaluation and Support
You may be concerned because you’ve noticed other Signs That a Child or Teen May Be At-Risk to Harm Another Child in your brother’s behavior. When a child has developmental disabilities it can be hard to tell what behavior might be a warning sign and what may be developmentally appropriate for them. So if this is the case, I encourage you to talk to your mom about taking your brother to the pediatrician to talk about your concerns about his behavior. You or she can also reach out to us for more support.

Safety Planning and Education for Children with Special Needs
If this is the only behavior that has you concerned, you’re right that it still makes sense to think about how to help him with this behavior for the future. First, your mom may want to take a look at our tip sheets For Parents of Children With Disabilities. These introduce the kind of safety planning and education that may be needed to help your brother understand the rules and stay safe.

There are many resources that can help your mom talk with your brother about what behavior is safe and what isn’t. The Sexuality Resource Center for Parents’ Teaching About Private Behaviors has some activities that can help your mom talk with your brother about boundaries and touching, including some specifically for parents of children with Down Syndrome. She may also want to take a look at The Good Men Project’s The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21. While their “action items” are listed by age group, your mom can use her judgment about your brother’s level of understanding to start with the lessons that will work best for him.

School as an Ally
You mentioned that your brother’s school pulls him from the playground when he plays this way, but I’m wondering what other steps they’re taking to help him with this behavior. Your mom may want to meet with the school, including his teacher and any other staff that help him throughout the day, to talk about how to monitor and respond to his behavior. She might want to ask the school counselor or special education services what social skills supports are available if your brother needs extra help with boundaries. Maybe the school can take a more proactive approach that not only prevents this behavior, but supports your brother in interacting with other kids at recess in a fun and safe way.

Disability-Specific Support
Your mom might also want to reach out to organizations nationally or in your community for parents of children with disabilities and see what other resources are available to help her help your brother stay safe. The National Down Syndrome Society Helpline may be a good place for her to start.

I’m so glad that you’re keeping a protective eye on your brother, for his safety and for others’. I hope this information is helpful, and please do not hesitate to contact us back or share our information with your mother if there are further concerns or questions. 

Take care,
Stop It Now!


Please share your feedback on this question

Last edited on: November 8th, 2018