Violence Against Children With Disabilities: Underreported and All Too Common

Corporal punishment is — shockingly — legal in 19 US states. Even more shocking is how often it’s used on students with disabilities. Today in 21st century America, a 6-year-old autistic boy, Landon K., was paddled with an inch-thick paddle by an assistant principal in Mississippi. Another autistic student, 15-year-old Jonathan C., was placed in a chokehold by a male staff member in a school in Florida. His offense? Screaming in the cafeteria — which, given his autism diagnosis, could very well have occurred due to sensory overload and challenges communicating.

More than 200,000 children are struck each school year, according to Department of Justice data, and that’s just counting what is reported. Clearly it’s high time that our society and our government do something about the continued use of corporal punishment on our students and, especially, our students with disabilities. On September 22, the Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act (ECPSA) was reintroduced into Congress. The bill would prohibit school personnel from striking children in their care.

The ECPSA’s provisions are long overdue, especially in the case of children with disabilities.The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has just released a report on peer-to-peer violence and bullying (PDF) that urges the Departments of Justice and Education to pay more attention to violence against students with disabilities. Such violence is a form of discrimination and is prohibited under federal law. It†is all the more harmful for children with disabilities, who already face many obstacles to learning and understanding social cues and norms:

  • In a 2009 study, 94 percent of parents of children with Asperger’s Syndrome reported that their children had been bullied.
  • 65 said that their children had been victimized by peers.
  • 50 percent that their children had been “scared” by peers.

Another 2009 study (PDF) found that 39.6 percent of parents of autistic children reported their children had been bullied for over a year.†As many children with disabilities have difficulties communicating, the extent to which they are bullied and subjected to violence from peers may well be underreported.

In addition, many autistic children are subjected to physical restraint as a “behavioral technique” by school staff. In a recent court case in Indiana, a special education teacher was cleared of charges in using restraint procedures against a 12-year-old autistic boy. †The†US Department of Education has said that, by this fall, it will†issue guidelines to school districts about the use of restraints, seclusion and other aversive procedures in US public schools. But currently there are no federal guidelines for restraint and seclusion procedures; some states have regulations but many leave these to the discretion of individual school districts.

As Alice Farmer of Human Rights Watch reminds us, this year is the fifth since the United Nations issued a report about violence against children. Before the US can censure other countries for their treatment of children, should not we enact laws to ensure that our children are safe and are not subjected to violence and physical abuse by those who are purportedly looking out for them?

Related Care2 Coverage

Toronto Police Defend Handcuffing Boy with Aspergerís

Basket Holds & Take Downs: Restraints in Public Schools Need More Scrutiny

Disabled Children Abused and Beaten in State Institutions

Vatican Denies Cover-Up of Abuses By Priests in Ireland


Photo by Kelley Mari


Robert Hardy
Robert Hardy6 years ago

We have such a long way to go before we become a humane and compassionate society.

Shaheen N.
Shaheen N6 years ago

Sad that we preach to adults ''don't fight & discuss the problem.'' And when it comes to small children we mistreat & abuse them. Depressing that corporal punishments are still given.

Beverly G.
bev g6 years ago

so sad and awful. Tho i was picked on by two particular teachers at school when i was in the infants and juniors. I was quite and timid, my mum was always up the school. They never took much notice. Im 56 now thats how long ago it was and its still going on. Evil people.

Helle H.
Helle H6 years ago

This should be banned right now.

Joosephine F.

this could be thier child, would they want thier child be treated this way.

sandra m.
Past Member 6 years ago

This saddens me because I know first hand it is NOT only children who do the abusing.
Our youngest daughter who has autistic tendencies and learning disabilities was routinely abused by teachers......Our older daughter witnessed it and when the school was confronted,denied it--stood together and denied it---Then,when our youngest came home with bruises--they would not comment or let us talk to the teacher that inflicted the bruises--worried I suppose,THEY called the cops and had her charged with terroristic threats--completely trumped up --we moved back here to Wi from Mn and through letters to the judge-from us and a marvelous school psycologist that new Julie well-finally had charges dropped.
Abuse is more rampant than you might think---It's NOT just kids! That's why it is harder to stop.....until the adults are held accountable.....nothing will change
We lived in a small town even (pop.2000).....

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

well........... seeing how many people hurt animals, helping the disabled children is going to be hard.

Mary Monell
mary ,monell6 years ago

I was bullied in high school that lead to a fight to defend myself. I couldn't take the harassment anymore. The punishment for fighting at my school was "licks" basically swat with paddle. I was 15 or 16 they asked me if I wanted them to call my parents and I said no. I was afraid that I would be in huge trouble -this was my first visit to principal's office. My parents were angry not at me but at the school as they did not believe in corporal punishment. That was in 80's. I can hardly believe this is still occur much less at the large rate it is for students with disabilities -it's an outrage.

An M.
Anna M6 years ago

*oops, I wrote that sentence wrong: teachers who are bullying students at school should be fired outright! Students who bully peers should also face very strict punishment, mandatory counseling, and further action if they fail to comply.