Children with Autism are More Likely to Experience Abuse than Other Children
Helping children on the autism spectrum is complex and difficult. We work hard to give our children a voice, so they are able to have their needs met and navigate their way to as normal a life as possible.
Sadly, new research recently published by the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorder has reminded us how vulnerable these children are to abuse, and how likely they are to experience it. The study tracked more than 24,000 Tennessee children from their births in 2008 through 2016. In that group, 387 were diagnosed with autism, and 17.3 percent of those children were the subject of child abuse hotline calls. The others in that age group accounted for only 7.4 percent of hotline calls, according to a Feb. 25th report published on the Disability Scoop news website.
These numbers show that children with autism are more than twice as likely to be exposed to abuse than children who are not diagnosed with autism. It’s not clear what is driving the disparity in cases of potential abuse, but in his report, researcher Zachary Warren said that behavior issues and other factors associated with autism could make those on the spectrum more vulnerable.
Children who are struggling with cognitive and behavior issues can be especially vulnerable to abuse and neglect, and it is tragic that some might have the additional burden dealing with mistreatment. We need to teach these children how to recognize when they are being mistreated and how to appropriately respond to it, and that includes knowing when and how to speak up and report abuse on their own behalf.
California law defines child abuse as a physical injury that was not accidental; cruelty and unjustifiable punishment; sexual abuse or exploitation; and neglect, from lack of adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care or supervision.
We urge anyone who knows of a child like this who might be an abuse victim to report it. Teachers, social workers, child care providers and health care professionals are required by state law to report their observations and suspicions, but parents, friends, relatives, neighbors, and even store cashiers and bus drivers can step forward to help.
The state’s Child Protective Services division of the California Department of Social Services website says community members have an important role in protecting children from abuse and neglect.
Report possible child abuse or neglect to your local police or sheriff’s department. The state’s Child Protective Services also have 24-hour emergency response phone lines staffed by social workers in every county.
In Los Angeles County, call (800) 540-4000
In Orange County, call (800) 207-4464
In Riverside County, call (800) 442-4918
In San Bernardino County, call (800) 827-8724
In San Diego County, call (800) 344-6000
In San Luis Obispo County, call (800) 834-5437
In Santa Barbara County, call (800) 367-0166
In Ventura County, call (805) 654-3200
A list of the phone numbers in other California counties are at: http://www.cdss.ca.gov/Reporting/Report-Abuse/Child-Protective-Services/Report-Child-Abuse.
For the full Disability Scoop article on the research:
For the complete Vanderbilt Kennedy Center research results: https://vkc.mc.vanderbilt.edu/notables/2019/02/children-with-autism-more-likely-to-experience-maltreatment-study-finds/
For the complete study abstract, A Population-Based Examination of Maltreatment Referrals and Substantiation for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, along with information about how to access the complete study: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1362361318813998