There have been several recent stories in the media detailing abuse of children with autism and other special-needs. The perpetrators could be teachers, caregivers, or even the child’s own parents. Children with autism are at a higher risk for abuse, for several reasons. They tend to have social and behavioral difficulties, which can lead to frustration, both for the person with autism and for teachers or caregivers. Many are limited in their ability to communicate, and can’t tell parents or trusted loved ones what is going on. They also have difficulty reading subtle social cues, which can leave them vulnerable to people who want to manipulate or trick them.
Often it is difficult for parents to figure out exactly what is going on in these situations. A child comes home from school with bruises. The teacher says they happened because he fell. Or a child suddenly becomes clingy and throws temper tantrums when the school bus arrives. Is there something going on at school that he can’t explain?
It can be tricky for a parent who suspects that their child may be a victim of abuse. You don’t want to create an adversarial relationship with the school, or the caregivers, who you’ve entrusted with your child’s education and well-being. Here are some steps you can take if you suspect that your child is being abused:
1. Take photographs of any injuries your child has after returning home from school or daycare.
2. Keep a journal, with the date and time, describing your child’s emotional state, or anything your child says that could indicate abuse.
3. Keep records of all conversations you have with caregivers or school personnel regarding injuries or incidents that occur at school or daycare. Write down the date, time, the name of the person you spoke to, and a brief summary of what was discussed.
4. Drop-in at school or daycare at various times. If the staff becomes overly annoyed at this, it could be a red flag.
5. If your child is verbal, ask him to tell you what is going on. Never discount a child’s account of possible abuse.
6. Consider using a hidden microphone or camera to capture evidence of abuse. The father of a 10 year old boy in Cherry Hill New Jersey sent his son to school with a hidden microphone, and was horrified to hear the verbal and emotional abuse his son was suffering on a daily basis.
7. Contact the police and child services to request an investigation.
As a parent, you have a responsibility to keep your child safe. You also have the right to investigate, and to remove your child from any situation where abuse is occurring. Never ignore a gut feeling that something is not right. If you suspect that your child is being abused, take action. If the allegations are unfounded, you can always apologize later, but if they are not, you must protect your child.