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Eliminating the Stigma of Abuse for Children with Disabilities

Updated: Apr 10

By Nicole Moehring

Talking about abuse isn’t easy. Hearing any innocent child, with or without an exceptional need, has been abused is gut-wrenching. And having your child come to you and disclose they were abused by someone you know and trusted is a parent’s worst nightmare.

But unfortunately, we somehow live in a society with two mottos “If we don’t talk about it – it didn’t happen” and “It will never happen to my child.” As a result, many choose to turn their heads to the subject of abuse, don’t want to get involved, don’t know what to do, or are afraid to do anything – it’s easier to turn a blind eye. Or at least that is what people tell themselves. But is it? People don’t realize the lifelong ramifications of trauma an individual endures from the psychological aspects of being abused. And those ramifications are amplified when an individual isn’t supported or believed.

When a child with a disability experiences abuse, the healing process may look much different since they often process things differently. Often survivors have flashbacks, experience anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), low self-esteem, or the inability to have healthy relationships. No two individuals heal the same.

Abusing children with disabilities is a systemic issue. Globally, at least 93 million children have a moderate or severe disability. Children with disabilities are thought to have a substantially greater risk of being victims of violence than their non-disabled peers (Jones). As a society, we need to be able to talk openly about abuse to end the stigma, reduce the risk and protect our innocent children. As a parent or a guardian of a child with a disability, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on how to protect our child(ren) from being abused. Change needs to start within our homes.

Once we become educated, we must educate our children, anyone close with and those who care for them, regarding a subject society is often uncomfortable talking about. I realize this isn’t easy. However, do you know what is more difficult? Hearing those dreaded words from your child, “I was abused,” and having your entire world turned upside down and never be the same again.

We need to stop victim shaming. If a child says they have been abused, STOP everything. Make the time to listen to them. BELIEVE them. DON’T turn them away. Let them know they are NOT in trouble and NOT alone; you ARE there and will get them the help they need. In addition, provide constant support to the child and allow them to feel comfortable and safe to tell their stories, IF and when they choose.

When a victim feels supported, they can begin their healing process to becoming a survivor while empowering others to come forward and report their abuse. We need to learn empathy and understand not everyone handles trauma the same. Victims and their families need to be louder than perpetrators. IT’S TIME!

For free resources on managing diagnoses, mobility, and accessibility support, self-advocacy, personal rights, educational rights, occupational therapy, mental health support, schools and camps, transitioning to adulthood, job opportunities, financial planning, supporting the family/caretakers, subscribe to Exceptional Needs Today. Subscribing to our award-winning e-magazine is free, and it enables us to connect with more readers, helping us support the special needs community more effectively. We publish a new issue every quarter - delivered straight to your email.

Jones L, Bellis MA, Wood S, Hughes K, McCoy E, Eckley L, Bates G, Mikton C, Shakespeare T, Officer A. Prevalence and risk of violence against children with disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Lancet. 2012 Sep 8;380(9845):899-907. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60692-8. Epub 2012 Jul 12. PMID: 22795511

After Nicole Moehring’s children were abused, she quickly recognized the distinct differences in recovery, finding support, and receiving justice for neurotypical children vs. children with disabilities. Nicole and her daughter Maci founded Voices of Change 2018 (VOC18), a nonprofit organization, to begin making much-needed change for children like her son. VOC18 is a national organization piloting our groundbreaking programs in Ohio. They are in the process of developing preventative education and training for children with disabilities while empowering parents and guardians. By sharing their lived experiences and through collaborations with other individuals, mental health professionals and organizations, they are building a foundation of advocacy, abuse awareness, community resources, and support for children with disabilities and their families.

Be sure to check out Nicole's regular column for FREE in Exceptional Needs Today magazine called Safety Goals with Nicole.

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