Watson Recognizes Child Abuse Prevention Month

Parents of children with special needs face many challenges. At the Watson Institute, our goal is to help parents and caregivers address the challenges their children may face day to day by supporting them educationally as well as through mental and behavioral health services such as child trauma informed therapy.

Did you know, individuals with disabilities are nearly 3 times more likely to experience abuse? Among individuals with disabilities, children in the 12-15 age group had the highest rate of violent crimes perpetrated against them.

Did you know, individuals with disabilities are nearly 3 times more likely to experience abuse? Among individuals with disabilities, children in the 12-15 age group had the highest rate of violent crimes perpetrated against them. (Erika Harrell, 2017)

An added complexity is that children with disabilities may not know how to seek help or may not be able to communicate that they have been the victim of abusive behavior.

As a parent or caregiver of a child with special needs, you may be wondering how to best guard your child against abuse. Today, in light of Child Abuse Prevention Month, our behavioral and mental health experts are sharing guidelines to help keep your child safe from abuse.

  1. Educate: Talk with your child about what is appropriate behavior from adults or children around them. Encourage a discussion around appropriate vs. inappropriate interactions. If you have questions about what is appropriate for your child or how to convey this information to them, talk with their teacher or another member of their care team.
  2. Empower: Teach your child that their feelings and reactions are valid. If something makes them feel uncomfortable or they experience an inappropriate interaction, they can – and should – speak up and say so.
  3. Equip: Teach your child how to seek help if something happens. Make sure they have identified adults with whom they feel safe sharing their experiences and concerns. This can be a positive exercise in celebrating all of the people who care about them! Say, “So many people love you! If you had a problem or something scared you, who do you feel comfortable talking to about it?”
  4. Engage: Check in with your child about how things are going periodically. Having regular supportive conversations builds a framework of trust and will encourage them to share with you if anything is causing them concern.
  5. Observe: For children with significant impairments or communication barriers, behavioral indicators are especially important. Parents and caregivers should watch for changes in behavior, such as increased agitation or reverting to prior behaviors. These behavioral changes may be indicators of abuse and should be taken seriously.

Parents should advocate with their child’s teachers and educational support team to ensure that they have a developmentally-appropriate safety plan in place to prevent abuse, and to identify signs of abuse.

If your child with special needs has been a victim of abuse and is experiencing trauma or PTSD, trauma-informed therapy services may be a helpful outlet to address these issues. Don’t be afraid to reach out to mental health professionals to help your child cope with trauma.

Learn more about the Watson Institute’s behavioral and mental health services which include trauma-informed therapy.

Dr. Mary Beth Boylan is the Program Director of Friendship Academy and Director of Psychological Services at the Watson Institute.


The data presented in this article comes from a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.


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