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Research Center

Effects of Special Needs Child Abuse



I need specific information concerning the abuse of students with special needs?


In general, children with special needs are at increased risk for physical abuse and neglect. Factors such as the child’s increased vulnerability and dependence play a role in this increased risk. Children with special needs often have difficulty communicating which can make caring for them more stressful, a factor which increases their risk of being abused, and language difficulties may interfere with the child’s ability to disclose abuse if abuse is occurring. If the child has complex medical problems, his/her health care needs may also add to any stress the caregiver feels and increase the possibility of abuse. Lastly, if a child is born with severe health problems and is hospitalized for a prolonged period of time, the separation of infant and family can interfere with bonding and this can increase the risk for abuse. In addition to physical abuse risk, these same issues have been found, in some studies, to be markers for an increased risk of sexual abuse. However, other studies have determined that children with special needs have no more risk of being sexually abused than other children. For additional information, you may want to visit the Research and Publications section of the Child Welfare Information Gateway ’s website. The address is http://www.calib.com/nccanch/pubs/index.cfm Thank you for your question and interest.

Randall Scott Schlievert
Child Abuse Fellow

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Response by:

Robert Shapiro, MD
Professor of Clinical Pediatrics
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati