Most children who get hurt can tell their parents what happened, but what about those who cannot?
There is a research evidence that children with disabilities are at a higher risk of experiencing neglect or abuse than children without disabilities. It is very likely that most of the time that the child’s ability to communicate the abuse to anyone is impaired.
Individuals with autism are generally taught compliance from a very young age, making them easy targets for
criminals (Petersilia et. al., 2001).
Children and adults with autism have difficulty picking up social cues (social referencing) and understanding other
individuals’ thoughts and intentions (Wetherby and Prizant, 2000), making them vulnerable to a range of crimes.
Children with disabilities often have limited access to critical information pertaining to personal safety and sexual
abuse prevention (AAP , 2001).
Triggering situations for child abuse are persistent crying, a child’s misbehavior, lack of disciplining success, and
difficulties with toilet training; all of which are common behaviors for children with ASD .
A study on child abuse and autism (Mandell, et. al., 2005) found that caregivers reported that 18.5% of children with autism had been physically abused and 16.6% had been sexually abused. A 2006 survey of over 1500 individuals with autism and caregivers, found that of the 35% reporting that they or their loved one with autism had been the victim of a crime, 38% reported experiencing physical abuse or assault, 32% reported emotional abuse, and 13% reported sexual abuse (Autism Society, 2006). These numbers are certainly frightening.
Parents, caregivers, therapist and teachers of autistic children may experience high levels of stress. Moreover, possible social isolation of families with a child who was diagnosed with ASD can increase the risk of neglect or child abuse by the parent or the caregiver. Another risk factor that we cannot ignore is a parent’s/caregiver’s lack of understanding of an autistic child’s needs.
Abuse cases involving autism tend to be more complex than those involving other children. Due to communication problems, one can’t rely on a child’s report when we see signs that are unusual and point toward abuse or neglect. Parents/caregivers need to do a physical exam and look for evidence of abuse. It may mean that we will need to have a difficult and challenging discussion with the caregiver, teacher, therapist or any other person who is involved with the child with ASD.