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Neglect of Children with Developmental Disabilities

written by: Lisa Pulsifer • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 8/2/2012

Children with a developmental delay associated with child neglect can be difficult to identify. Knowing what the signs are and what actions should be taken can help a child with a developmental disability have needs met that are necessary in being successful in school.

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    Overview

    Children have basic needs that they look to their parents to fulfill. These needs are required to be met for a child to function at school and succeed. When a parent does not provide the basic things such as food, clothes, hygiene, a sense of being valued and stability, they are considered neglectful. Because a child with developmental delay might have more challenges it can be increasingly difficult for the parent to meet those needs. The family of a child with a developmental delay associated with child neglect may need interventions in order to insure the basic needs are met.

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    Signs

    Because of the lack of communication that students with a developmental delay have, it is important that teachers are able to identify other signs that may indicate there is a problem. Anything that indicates that basically physical needs are not being met, can be a sign that the parents are not taking proper care of the child. Things such as poor hygiene, unexplained weight loss, and an increase in searching and stealing for food can all be signs of a problem at home. Not having basic physical needs met can also be shown by a lack of concentration. Children lacking attention at home might seek attention in inappropriate ways when at school. This is especially the case for a student unable to ask for what they want. This can occur in self-abuse and aggression towards others. A large number of absences for a student with a developmental disability might also indicate a lack of parental involvement at home.

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    Considerations

    There are many symptoms of a developmental delay associated with child neglect such as aggression and inattentiveness. Because of this it is important to make sure that there is an overall understanding of who the child is and what their normal behavior looks like. Sometimes, if a behavior or occurrence is out of the ordinary, there is a simple explanation. For example, if a young girl with a developmental delay is coming to school and is dirty with her hair undone, it might cause concern that she is not being cared for. However, a simple phone call may indicate that the mom who normally does these things is out of town. While it is necessary to be vigilant if there is concern, giving parents a chance to explain when things are out of the ordinary is also important so that as a teacher you may maintain a trusting relationship with them.

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    Action

    If you have looked into a situation and decided there is cause for concern, as a teacher you are mandated by law to report it to your local child protection agency. Providing them with documentation can help them make the determination of what needs to be done next. Also, letting the appropriate administrator know can help if the parents should call and question the school.