About one percent of American children under the age of 17 have some form of autism and these numbers are growing. Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States. Autism is one of five disorders that fall under the category of pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), a category of neurological/developmental disorders characterized by severe and pervasive impairment in several areas of development. These disorders include autism, Asperger’s syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). These disabilities are especially prevalent in boys.
Research shows that autistic children and other children with PDD’s are at higher risk for experiencing abuse and neglect than non-autistic children. According to a 2005 study, 18.5% of children with autism have been physically abused and 16.6% have been sexually abused. A 2006 study found even higher numbers; 35% of those studied had been a victim of a crime, 38% had experienced physical abuse or assault, 32% had experienced emotional abuse, and 13% had experienced sexual abuse.
Children with autism and autism spectrum disorders have difficulty picking up social cues and understanding the actions of others. They tend to be very trusting and may not understand the concept of lies. They are often are taught to comply with adults that care for them, but they may comply with all adults. They are also at high risk for bullying. And, their sensitivities, lack of social skills, acting out and eccentricities can make an autistic child frustrating to caregivers. And some untrained teachers still use punitive measures to deal with developmental problems. All these factors make these autistic children especially prone to abuse.
When abused, autistic children may not be able to communicate what is going on. Many autistic children have delayed verbal abilities or use words in an atypical way. Parents need to look for signs of injury as well as new behaviors. Abused autistic children are more likely to act out in sexual or abusive ways, they may attempt suicide, or they may have academic or behavioral problems at school.
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