“My child touches his penis and becomes aroused when we are in public places. I feel embarrassed.” Your child knows the sensations feel good, however, it is probably just a form of self stimulation. Most likely your child probably does not have the same schema or ideas about sexuality as most typical people or yourself. Reacting emotionally to this behavior may complicate the public situation.
The more immediate solution may be to redirect his behavior, for example, by saying and doing “fold your arms” then redirecting his focus to something that is of intense interest to him, or provide him with a choice between two highly preferred items. The internal drive for this type of self stimulation may be incredibly strong and may require much patience and consistency in developing a replacement behavior to help your child learn to regulate and control the behavior and the urges himself. It is best to pair your prompt, the verbal redirection with visual information, via modeling the behavior yourself, and using pictures, or written words.
In some cases replacement objects can be used like a fidget toy. They can be carried throughout public places and look “typical”. Stress balls, gel filled sensory toys, and other items are readily available at toy stores. There are many catalogues specializing in sensory solutions for special populations.
Social stories may also be helpful. You can create a personalized social story which describes the social situation and helps the child develop an understanding of the implications of the social situation. Personalized social stories need to be written using language or pictures that the child understands.
One way to help your child with this type of self stimulation is to teach him when to masturbate or touch his private areas and where to masturbate, and in some cases how long to masturbate. Many parents are ‘okay’ with allowing the child who has an intense drive to masturbate to do so at home in the privacy of his or her own room. Masturbating in the bathroom is not a good idea as the behavior may be generalized to other bathrooms including public restrooms where it could invite dangerous situations.
For extreme cases, another option may be medication. If you choose this option please speak with your child’s physician and also consult with the educational team and follow the prescribed recommendations.
Remember, that human touch is a part of our humanity. We all have innate drives that need attention, some more than others. Masturbation is a natural progression of human development.