Are autistic children at greater risk for abuse?

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asplanet
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06 Apr 2009, 10:22 pm

Found this a very interesting read....

Are autistic children at greater risk for abuse?
Hallmarks of a developmental disorder create additional level of concern
By Jeremy Cox - Story updated at 6:06 PM on Monday, Apr. 6, 2009


She was desperate to communicate what she wanted. So much so that the tiny girl would thrash around, throw herself on the floor and kick others in vain to express what she couldn't in words.

Autism stood like a wedge between Elizabeth Popp and the confusing world she inhabited. When she was old enough to attend public school, some teachers tried almost as hard as she did to get her to understand them. Once, her mother said recently, she came home bearing signs of a struggle.

The handprints on her back and pools of purple around her eyes conveyed what the girl could not.

"I knew there were things that were happening," said Lauralyn Popp of Avondale, adding that she remains unsure eight years later which injuries were self-inflicted and which were not, except the handprints.

Many of the hallmarks of autism put children at risk of abuse, experts say. Children with autism have trouble deciphering what others are thinking and feeling, which may be frustrating to parents, teachers and others around them. More so than typical children, they take their cues from others and have difficulty distinguishing bad adult behavior from good. And if abuse occurs, communication impairments hamper their ability to tell someone.

Nearly one in five autistic children had been physically abused among a sample of 156 children with autism who had been taken to community health centers for treatment, according to a University of Pennsylvania study. About one in six had been sexually abused.

Those proportions were slightly lower than children with other mental health-related conditions but still high enough to shock the study's lead author.

"This was very striking to us," said David Mandell, associate director for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's autism center. "I can understand people getting frustrated, but I find this behavior very inexcusable."

The 2005 study also laid bare the consequences of that abuse. The abused children were more likely to act out in sexual or abusive ways, attempt suicide or run into academic and conduct problems at school. Mandell said the research underscored the importance of vigilance on the part of therapists and doctors for signs of abuse.

"Kids with autism by definition have a problem communicating. It means you can't rely on a child's report. You need to do a physical exam and look for evidence of abuse. It means you have to have a difficult and challenging discussion with the caregiver," he said.

Abuse cases often more complex

Separate national advocacy camps have adopted the month of April as the peak of their public-relations campaigns. As a result, it is known alternately as National Autism Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month. Autism and child abuse, though, have more in common than a page on a calendar.

Abuse cases involving autism tend to be more complex than those involving other children.

The condition itself is complicated. It is widely known as autism spectrum disorders, or ASD, so named because it encompasses such developmental disorders as Asperger's syndrome, Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder. In general, autism is a brain disorder that begins in early childhood, usually by the age of 3, and is marked by an inability to have normal social interactions.

And many children with autism are diagnosed with more than one condition. Every child is different, with different needs, experts say.

Recent allegations lodged against a longtime Jacksonville special-education teacher offer a window into these complexities.

Rhona Milton was arrested on child abuse charges on March 17 and released from jail shortly afterward on her own recognizance. The 32-year teaching veteran stands accused of tying an autistic student to a toilet-training chair for hours over several days in September at Kernan Trail Elementary, according to police reports.

Two classroom aids and an intern also were in the room and told investigators the boy was forced to sit in the chair with his pants down from 9 a.m. until the end of the school day, save for a break at lunch. The staff members told police that Milton told them the boy was being potty-trained.

An arraignment has been scheduled for Wednesday.

The charges shocked Jacksonville's tight-knit community of parents with autistic children. A mother of a child with Asperger's and longtime friend of Silver's, for one, said she believes in the teacher's innocence.

"I know Rhona to be an intrepid advocate for people with autism spectrum disorders," said Julie Delegal, noting Silver's leadership with an Asperger's support group and blemish-free teaching record. "I believe that the charge against her must be a terrible mistake."

A Duval County school autism expert told investigators that the chair at the center of the case, called a Rifton chair, wasn't required by any of the children in Silver's classroom. Ken Sutton, executive director of exceptional education, distributed a memo among the district's more than 150 schools a day after the arrest, calling on them to identify and "redeploy" any unnecessary specialized equipment.

"You can imagine we have a lot of inventory that is very expensive, and it would make sense if we could redeploy it where it's needed," Sutton said in an interview, adding that he had been drafting the policy before Silver's arrest.

The chair is not intended to be used for behavioral modification, he added.

A parent's concerns

On a Monday afternoon late last month, Elizabeth Popp sat on a squashy couch in her family's living room, fidgeting but calm. Suddenly, she announced she was cold.

"Do you want to play your piano?" asked her mother, who was seated beside her.

"No," Elizabeth replied reflexively, almost unconsciously.

With the word still hanging in the air, she walked into another room, where a keyboard sat on a wooden desk, and began flawlessly playing a tune she called "Birthday Party."

This, her mother would say later, is progress. After years of intensive, individualized instruction at an Arlington private school called the Jericho School, Elizabeth, now 14, has gotten the basics down: sitting in a chair, making snacks, shaking hands with visitors, among others.

The approach advocated by the school calls for a system of rewards for good behavior. As in playing the piano to get the thermostat turned up.

Lauralyn Popp freely acknowledges that her daughter was once a "world-class" tantrum artist. Still, when Elizabeth came home from Pinedale Elementary one day in March 2001 with her eyes blackened and handprints on her back, Popp never sent her back to the school.

A Duval school system spokeswoman directed questions about the Popps' abuse claim to Sutton, who said he couldn't comment on it because the alleged event occurred years before he stepped into his current position.

A decade ago, Popp and her husband, John, filed an unsuccessful federal lawsuit alleging the Duval school system was violating the law by not drafting and following individualized education plans for children with disabilities. Their 18-year-old son, Michael, has a mild form of Asperger's and also attended schools in the system.

But observers say their fight laid the groundwork for a program that put Duval teachers in touch with autism experts.

Sutton, the exceptional student program head, said his teachers are more prepared than ever to handle children suffering from difficult disorders.

He pointed to a summer academy for both exceptional student teachers and other teachers held each of the last two years.

The program emphasizes positive behavioral support as opposed to using punitive measures while teaching children with developmental problems, he said.

Further, his department is set to receive $15 million soon and another $15 million in September in federal stimulus money. A "large amount" of that infusion will go toward professional training, Sutton said. [email protected], (904) 359-4083


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TheMidnightJudge
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06 Apr 2009, 10:54 pm

Good article. I'm not surprised autistics are at greater risk for abuse. There are plenty of horror stories out there.


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Dark_Red_Beloved
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06 Apr 2009, 11:05 pm

Jeremy Cox wrote:
Are autistic children at greater risk for abuse?
Hallmarks of a developmental disorder create additional level of concern

"I can understand people getting frustrated, but I find this behavior very inexcusable."


Not to mention refreshing. After so many articles about how autistic people burden society and destroy "normal" families,an article revealing the abuse of autistic people was long overdue!!!Mr. Cox, here's to you.

:cheers:



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07 Apr 2009, 2:20 am

:cheers:



flurry
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07 Apr 2009, 2:51 am

I've heard this before, but it was in relation to AS girls being more susceptible to sexual abuse - for the same reasons. I think it must be a valid point. Personally, it applies to me.



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07 Apr 2009, 3:36 am

Quote:
On a Monday afternoon late last month, Elizabeth Popp sat on a squashy couch in her family's living room, fidgeting but calm. Suddenly, she announced she was cold.

"Do you want to play your piano?" asked her mother, who was seated beside her.

"No," Elizabeth replied reflexively, almost unconsciously.

With the word still hanging in the air, she walked into another room, where a keyboard sat on a wooden desk, and began flawlessly playing a tune she called "Birthday Party."

This, her mother would say later, is progress. After years of intensive, individualized instruction at an Arlington private school called the Jericho School, Elizabeth, now 14, has gotten the basics down: sitting in a chair, making snacks, shaking hands with visitors, among others.

The approach advocated by the school calls for a system of rewards for good behavior. As in playing the piano to get the thermostat turned up.



WTF?! !!
If she needs a drink of water is she forced to play "Chopsticks"?! !



asplanet
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07 Apr 2009, 6:41 am

flurry wrote:
I've heard this before, but it was in relation to AS girls being more susceptible to sexual abuse - for the same reasons. I think it must be a valid point. Personally, it applies to me.


Hi flurry, I think one of the hardest things when discovering Aspergers was thinking back on how I had been treated, taken advantage of, even abused because at the time I knew no different.


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Anemone
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07 Apr 2009, 10:07 am

blue_bean wrote:
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The approach advocated by the school calls for a system of rewards for good behavior. As in playing the piano to get the thermostat turned up.


WTF?! !!
If she needs a drink of water is she forced to play "Chopsticks"?! !


No, "Chopsticks" is for ordering Chinese food. You play Handel's water music for a drink of water. :wink:

Yeah, that part got me, too. Other than that a pretty good article.



pandd
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07 Apr 2009, 3:25 pm

I agree with the premise that autistic people are at heightened risk of abuse.

I wonder how this plays out in regards to the apparent propensity of psychiatrists to "see" BPD in female patients, because to my knowledge, this propensity is particularly present where there are indications of abuse in childhood. In fact it no doubt further complicates adult assessment particularly of females, since the "therapy/assessment" professions seem so keen to blame problems in presenting females on abuse.



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08 Apr 2009, 1:55 pm

I'm not surprised either. :roll:

If I ever have a child with autism,
then the way I will communicate
with my child is through sign language.

Very good article. :wink:


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asplanet
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09 Apr 2009, 5:45 am

AnonymousAnonymous wrote:
If I ever have a child with autism, then the way I will communicate with my child is through sign language.

Those that have none verbal children often communicate with sign language and other methods, but many of us are verbal and the abuse is often because of the nativity, not understanding social boundaries as others do...


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LadyJuliette
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13 Apr 2009, 3:46 am

Ditto. Even as an adult I am more prone to sexual harrassment, probably as I send out signals interpreted by people in a sexual way even though that is not my intention at all. We don't have the same filters as others. Being South African makes me stratistically more prone to these experiences though, as we have the highest rape stats in the world, so I need to be objective here.



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22 Apr 2009, 1:54 pm

LadyJuliette wrote:
Ditto. Even as an adult I am more prone to sexual harrassment, probably as I send out signals interpreted by people in a sexual way even though that is not my intention at all. We don't have the same filters as others. Being South African makes me stratistically more prone to these experiences though, as we have the highest rape stats in the world, so I need to be objective here.

Hello you! :D
I ditto that as well. Thank goodness I'm aging badly because now it doesn't matter what kind of signals I'm sending. Nobody's receiving. Life is good.



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23 Apr 2009, 9:22 am

Lol!! ! Their receivers must be broken... Age has nothing to do with having the x factor.

Now that I know I am an Aspie, I've started to watch my behaviour to see what I'm doing. I smile too much, literally. Must be an AS coping skill. Always smiling, inappropriately and at everyone. I'm not saying smiling means it's ok to harrass me though, but it could be that I'm seen as "too friendly" and it is an invitation to sociopath types and the like.



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29 Apr 2009, 10:50 pm

This is very sad and troubling to me.


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