Helping Special Needs Kids Avoid Abuse

by Sari Harrar

Kids with disabilities are three times more likely to experience abuse compared to kids without disabilities, according to the group Prevent Abuse America. One reason: Kids and teens with special needs may be more dependent, longer, on caregivers. They may not grasp that some abusive behaviors are just that – and they may not be able to escape or defend themselves.  Adding to the issue for concerned parents: Teaching kids how to protect themselves may be more challenging.

Now, a new book aims to help.  Written by Hunter Manasco, Ph.D., an assistant professor of speech-language pathology at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa,  “An Exceptional Children’s Guide to Touch: Teaching Social and Physical Boundaries to Kids” (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, July 2012) aims to guide parents in talking to and teaching kids how to stay safe.

The idea for the book came from Manasco’s first years treating children with autism and other neurological disorders. In a matter of months, he became aware of the many dangers and social difficulties that children with special needs encounter in their daily lives. He saw children with special needs hurt others and be hurt by their peers and caregivers without knowing anything was awry or that something should be done about it.  

 “I saw all these situations which centered on issues of physical touch and a lack of knowledge or misunderstanding on the part of the child for what was acceptable and what was not acceptable and possibly even problematic,’’ Manasco notes. “For the parents, caregivers, teachers and other professionals working with children with special needs, these issues arise often. Yet, when I searched for the books and materials needed to address these problems, I found little or no materials tailored to fit the cognitive and communicative needs of these children.”

The 80-page, paperback picture book educates children with special needs on social rules regarding appropriate and inappropriate forms of touching. It can be used to empower children to recognize abuse and to encourage them to reach out for help if they feel they are being abused. The book also has a “for adults’’ section with information for caregivers and professionals regarding how to recognize child abuse and who to contact if they believe a child is being abused.

“You want children to be able to recognize abuse when it happens and report it, but of course ideally you don’t want the child to be abused in the first place,” he says. “My hope is that this is a preventative measure. If you have a special needs child, there are at least handful of people in that child’s life helping to care for him or her. And if you make it known that your child knows what is normal and not normal and that you have a plan in place to prevent and report problems, there’s a deterrent factor there.”