Understanding the language of abuse for children with disabilities

sad-girlBumps and bruises are inevitable when it comes to kids. However, an injury from the playground compared to an injury from abuse has far more significant ramifications on the overall well-being of a child.

That’s why it’s really important for caregivers to understand the physical clues of abuse.

Although no child is immune from abuse, disabled children are three times more likely to be abused or neglected. Not only are they more susceptible to abuse, disabled children have far more challenges communicating to those who can help them.

To help give a voice to these children, the Akron Children’s Hospital Child Advocacy Center and Midwest Regional Children’s Advocacy Center focused its annual training event on developing interview and communication techniques for children with autism and other disabilities.

Akron Children’s Child Advocacy Center, located in Boardman, Ohio, provided nearly 400 medical and forensic evaluations in 2012 for children and teens that may have been physically or sexually abused.

Scott Modell, PhD

Scott Modell, PhD

The event featured a four-part training session with Scott Modell, PhD, deputy commissioner at the Department of Children’s Services State of Tennessee. Dr. Modell shared the latest interview techniques and special considerations when interviewing children with disabilities.

He also emphasized the importance of letting the victim set the pace of the interview and allowing them to describe the event in their own words. Building rapport with the victim is crucial in improving trust and reducing anxiety in a high-stress situation, Dr. Modell said.

Even with the best interview techniques, some disabilities prevent children from communicating at all – including instances of abuse. How else can caregivers identify subtle signs of abuse in disabled children?

Dr. Daryl Steiner

Dr. Daryl Steiner

Featured speaker, R. Daryl Steiner, DO, medical director of Akron Children’s Hospital’s CARE Center, provided additional insight on the subtle, yet critical, differences in injuries to body surfaces.

Dr. Steiner spoke to the importance of developing a critical eye when identifying the outward signs of physical abuse and how they differ from any other injury.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics 2012 report:

  • The average annual rate of serious violent victimization doubled from 2009 to 2011 among persons with intellectual disabilities.
  • Nearly half (49%) of people with developmental disabilities who are victims of sexual abuse will experience 10 or more abusive incidents.
  • Violent victimization for persons with disabilities is more than twice the rate of persons without disabilities.
  • Serious violent victimization for persons with disabilities was more than 3 times the rate of persons without disabilities.
  • Only 3% of sexual abuse cases involving people with developmental disabilities are ever reported.

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