For the first time in more than a decade, pediatricians are given new guidance on identifying and tackling abuse of children with disabilities.
In a clinical report this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics said children with disabilities are at least three times more likely to experience abuse and neglect than other children. Cases of such abuse are unlikely to be adequately reported as many of these children have communication difficulties and cannot report problems.
The guidance notes that several factors could be responsible for this increased risk. Families can be overwhelmed by the complexities of their children’s needs, the added financial demands, or the lack of follow-up care. Parents may also overestimate their child’s abilities and resort to corporal punishment to address what they see as stubbornness, the report said.
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In particular, the Pediatrics Group said research shows that children with milder disabilities are actually at higher risk of abuse and neglect than children with greater disabilities.
“Raising a child with a disability is often challenging,” said Larry W. Desch, pediatrician at Chicago Medical School and author of the clinical report. “Some children with disabilities react differently to the usual way we think about discipline and strengthen good behavior. This can become very frustrating and add to the stress on the caregiver. “
Pediatricians should play an active role in assessing family wellbeing and discussing appropriate discipline each time they visit the doctor, according to the Pediatrics Group. Families should be given reasonable expectations of their child, specific ideas for responding to a child’s developmental problems, and recommendations to local resources and support agencies for support.
In addition, doctors should identify signs of abuse and, if necessary, report concerns to the authorities. However, the guidelines indicate that pediatricians are also responsible for documenting self-harming behaviors and other factors that are critical to distinguishing whether or not injury is likely to be the result of abuse.
“As pediatricians, we see families trying to do their best for their children every day but may not have the coping skills and resources necessary to deal with stressful or difficult circumstances,” said Lori A. Legano of New York University , the lead author of the clinical report. “Pediatricians can offer a non judgmental perspective, help families focus on their child’s strengths and guide them through challenging times.”