Children with special needs are far more likely to be physically or sexually abused than neurotypical children (read latest reports and statistics here).
Sadly, researchers have also found that children with autism and Aspergers Syndrome are the most likely to be abused among the special needs population, because they tend to be isolated and have communication challenges.
Denial does not eliminate abuse. Education, advocacy, vigilance, safeguards, and training can mitigate the risk of abuse of children, teens, and adults wth autism.
All parents can learn how to identify potential abusers to help protect themselves and their children. However, parents of children with special needs have to be more vigilant and have to make an extra effort, because the risks are greater and the children are often less able to report.
These skills take time to learn. Break it down into learnable chunks. Look for teachable moments in your daily life activities, in books, and in movies.
One helpful thing I did was take a picture of my son's pediatrician and added him to his photo album of important and trusted adults in his life.
Read: Maltreatment of Children with Disabilities (American Academy of Pediatrics). Includes information on the pediatrician's role and specific, recommended guidelines for pediatricians in the prevention and identification of abuse.
Browse the article (14 pp) and skip to the section on doctor tips to read more thoroughly.
Careivers are mandated reporters of child abuse. Talk to your caregivers about the possibility of child abuse and what they know about it. Ask them to tell you the signs of abuse. Ask them what they would do if they suspected your child was being abused.
There is an excellent chapter on this topic in "Protecting the Gift."
Read: 9 Ways to Make Better and Safer Hiring Decisions (Care.com)
Download and print: Special Needs Safety Checklist (from Care.com)
Remember, your child is more likely to be abused by someone he or she knows than by a stranger. This includes teachers, coaches, religious leaders. It might even be another student or child. Or a family member. Learn how to identify the signs of grooming and abuse.
Be present, active, and vigilant in all settings your child attends -- childcare, church, school, teams, sleepovers, activities, with babysitters.
I am a substitute teacher. I see and report abuse in special eduation classrooms. I see stuff you would not believe. I wish those parents were more intrusive and less trusting.
It's a proven fact that it is less likely a perpetrator will target a child who has a highly involved, hands-on parent. Don't be afraid to appear over-protective and be especially wary of any person who calls you that. You have a special needs child that needs more protection than other children.
Read: Tips for Protecting Child Athletes from Sexual Abuse (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) which has applicable tips for kids in school settings.
Scott Campbell, a dad of a child with autism who gives safety presentations to parents, first responders, and police, told parents how he invited all his neighbors to his home for a barbecue, to get acquainted with his child and his needs.
He stressed how important it was to make your neighbors aware and on your child's safety team.
Here is an example of a handout you might distribute to your neigbhors from Gerald Hasselbrink Law Offices.
Legal disclaimer: The tools and recommendations on this website are not intended to replace the information, training, and support you may receive from qualified medical and therapeutic professionals. It is the parent's responsibility to verify the accuracy of recommendations and information before implementing changes that may impact the parent's child.