Children with autism more than twice as likely to be maltreated, study finds
A recent study by researchers in the United States has found that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are nearly two and half times more likely than children without ASD to be reported to the child abuse hotline by the age of eight.
The study, led by researchers from Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD), examined the entire population of Middle Tennessee residents born in 2008 and compared their records through 2016. Using data collected through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s (CDC) Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, 387 children out of the population of 24,306 were identified as having a diagnosis of ASD.
More than 17 per cent of those identified with ASD had been reported to the Child Abuse Hotline by 2016, compared to 7.4 per cent of children without ASD. Additionally, females with ASD were six times more likely to have substantiated allegations of maltreatment than males with ASD.
“If roughly one in five children with autism is reported to the Department of Child Services (DCS), we need to make sure there is awareness of how common this is and further educational and service system partnerships to optimize our ability to respond,” senior investigator, Dr Zachary Warren said.
“This represents a very vulnerable population, and we have a responsibility to work with mandated reporters, service providers, school systems and those who respond to these allegations to make sure they’re equipped with all the tools necessary to meet the complex needs of these children.”
Dr Warren said children living with ASD were especially vulnerable to maltreatment due to a variety of factors, such as the presence of challenging behaviour and complex cognitive and language impairments, increased caregiver stress, lower levels of family social support and higher rates of caregiver isolation and dependence.
It may also be that children with ASD are more likely to come into contact with a team of allied health providers, who are monitoring more closely than they would children without ASD, however data from this study can neither confirm nor deny these hypotheses.
“There are a lot of things we still don’t know, but I think this study highlights the need to start examining those factors to better equip reporters and those who are responding to those reports,” Dr Warren said.
Further information on what types of abuse are being reported, differences in clinical profiles of children along the autism spectrum, data on the rates of maltreatment of children with other types of disabilities and further evidence of gender disparities could provide a more holistic view of the factors surrounding these results, researchers suggested.
The study may be viewed in full here.