Young Children and Disability

A Product of Disability Access: Empowering Tribal Members with Disabilities & Their Families
by Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc.

Parenting advice- How to prevent abuse: III. Understand your child's special needs

toddler reading a magazineWhat about abnormal child development? While we know it is not politically correct to refer to anyone as abnormal these days, the fact is if your child with autism does not calm down when you pick him up and, rather, screams to be put down and throws himself on the floor howling at the top of his lungs, you have a child at risk for child abuse.

If you think it is terrible that anyone would abuse a baby, then you will like this fact even less - babies who have developmental problems are more likely to be abused than healthy babies.

Look at the child in the picture. She is doing a number of things that are reinforcing to her family. She is smiling at the adult taking the picture. She is looking straight at him. She is reading a magazine, imitating the adult who is caring for her. And she is very cute. All of these are parts of being a normal child that make parents feel good and feel good around their child.

A baby who just lays there, and does not show any response to the mother's talking, cuddling or attempting to feed him or her is not very reinforcing to the mother. A normal baby responds to being picked up and fed by cuddling to the mother or father, often gazing into the parent's face with a look that says, at least to the parent, "I think you are the must wonderful person in the world." How could you not love a baby?

Some babies, on the other hand, due to prematurity, cocaine exposure or other problems in development are hypersensitive. When you pick them up, they arch their backs, scream as if stuck with a pin and push away. A baby who is visually or cognitively impaired may not look at the parent at all. Some parents, particularly those who have other of the risk factors above, such as youth, lack of social support and limited knowledge of child development, may interpret this behavior as "I am a bad parent" or "My baby doesn't like me."

You are not a bad parent and your baby loves you. The two of you may need to learn some special ways of learning or communicating. There is help for you in this workshop and beyond. For now, let's look at the last risk factor for child abuse, teenage parents.

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