In my work with a student who has multiple physical challenges, I am currently focusing on the issue of personal safety. Our local SafeTouch program has been effectively addressing violence prevention and child sexual assault (CSA) in schools for 30 years. My kiddo can’t go to school. And there are large numbers of kids with developmental delays and other disabilities which potentially make them targets of abuse. On the other hand, these kids are usually in a setting with highly individualized support, an environment where personal safety programs can be modified to meet each child’s unique needs.
In the case of my student, who has a passion for tigers, I have written a series of books about Chad, a cub who injures his leg. On a visit to the doctor, Chad is traumatized by a gruff nurse (a zebra named Jenny- no, she doesn’t seem concerned that she’s treating lions). Jenny stifles Chad’s tears with threats and then pretends to “affectionately” pinch his little face. When Chad has nightmares about Jenny, Chad’s mama intervenes.
Chad exhibits many of the signs of abuse: noticeable behavior changes, trouble sleeping, unwillingness to talk about his feelings, and unusual fears about an environment which was previously safe. (Another important sign would be unexplained bruising, broken bones, etc.) Eventually Chad and his mother develop a safety plan. In this case, due to my student’s often unintelligible communication, his (and Chad’s) safety plan consists of two words which are most easily understood, along with matching word cards. Some kids will need photos or symbols to reference their plan. Social narratives, like Chad’s story, can be created with simple language and pictures/ photographs. Role playing or the use of puppets can be useful strategies, as well. Organizations such as KidPower provide commercially prepared resources for teachers, parents, and kids.
If you ‘re asking if this is all necessary, the answer is YES. One in three disabled kids is likely to have suffered some kind of abuse (physical or CSA) while kids without disabilities are abused at a rate of about one in ten. Most kids are actually abused by their parents, so this can be tricky terrain to navigate. In my own experience of 45 years in special education, these statistics ring true. I also know of kids who’ve been physically abused by caretakers in group homes and even classroom teachers and assistants. Pedophiles have reported targeting kids who are less likely to report abuse, less likely to understand abuse, and less likely to be believed. Let’s be proactive in making sure that all our kids are safe from abuse and neglect.