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  • Riley Malone

The Intersectionality of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Child Abuse

April is both Child Abuse Prevention and Autism Acceptance Month. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disability caused by neurodivergence in the brain. A person who has neurodivergence is someone who's mental function is different from what is typical. They have different strengths and challenges than people without neurodivergence. Some of these challenges are often social communication and interaction. 


This can be seen in cases of child abuse. Some of the challenges of neurodivergence that are social, emotional, and communicational could be interpreted by sexual offenders as vulnerabilities that they could exploit. The deceptive motives and emotions portrayed by sexual offenders are difficult for children to understand in general. Neurodivergence can present an even greater difficulty in children’s interactions with offenders.


In addition to characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder being risk factors for abuse, there is also a risk for behavioral signs of abuse being missed in children on the autism spectrum. It is typical for children on the autism spectrum to display self-stimulation, self-injury, and repetitive behaviors. If a child has been sexually abused, these behaviors could increase in the child’s attempt to cope. There is the risk that these signs of abuse are misinterpreted as a symptom of neurodivergence. In addition to this, a child’s inability to disclose because of certain social and communication challenges presents another risk for children on the autism spectrum that have been abused. Any victim of abuse might have a hard time disclosing the abuse, especially children and especially children who struggle with social communication (like in cases of nontypical mental function). 


We can aid children with autism spectrum disorder in being educated and attentive of possible vulnerabilities in the area of child abuse. All children deserve to be safe. It is everyone’s responsibility that we are aware of and advocate for the safety of all children all the time.



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