Child abuse is a serious problem, and when your child has autism, the stakes are even higher. Children with autism may have difficulty communicating with parents or other adults about incidents of abuse. They also may have difficulty recognizing that a certain form of interaction is not acceptable, and even think that the perpetrator is their friend. Many of the common signs parents look for may be more difficult to spot in a child who already exhibits repetitive behaviors and withdrawn social interactions.
The news is filled with disturbing stories of abuse towards children and adults with autism. A woman in Sweetwater, Florida was arrested on charges of locking her adult son in bare room containing only a mattress, with no access to food, water or toilet facilities for hours on end. The parents of a 10 year old boy in Cherry Hill New Jersey were shocked to hear verbal abuse and explicit talk about drinking and sexual activity from their son’s teacher and classroom aides after sending him to school with a hidden microphone. A teenage boy is strapped to a table and shocked with electricity over 31 times at a school in Massachusetts.
As parents, we want to protect our children, and we want to trust the professionals who we depend on to help them get the best education and services possible. Most of these people are kind, wonderful folks who truly want to see these children grow and develop, but there are some bad apples in the bunch. What are the red flags parents can look for, to help their child, especially when your child is unable to communicate what is happening?
These are symptoms that may signal a need for further investigation:
1. Reluctance to remove clothing, such as coats or sweaters, to hide bruises or other marks
2. Grades suddenly dropping, for no apparent reason
3. Wearing long sleeves/pants in warm weather
4. Emotional changes – a happy child is suddenly clingy or whiny
5. Sudden loss of interest in activities that used to be pleasurable
6. Child suddenly begins to hit, bite, or otherwise inflict injuries on other people, animals
7. Child suddenly strips naked in front of others
8. Abnormal or unusual interest in or knowledge of sex
9. Suddenly wanting to avoid certain adults
10. Bruises in places that don’t normally get bruised, like the back of the thigh
Many of these symptoms can be explained by things other than child abuse, but if you notice sudden changes in your child’s personality, that can’t be explained by something like an illness or other difficulties at home, you may want to investigate. If your child is coming home from school with unexplained bruises or marks, or suddenly develops an aversion to going to school, there may be something going on .
The next article in this series will share tips for parents who fear that their child is a victim of abuse.