Child maltreatment in autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability: results from a population‐based sample

13 May 2019
Christina G. McDonnell Andrea D. Boan Catherine C. Bradley Kristen D. Seay Jane M. Charles Laura A. Carpenter
Te JOurnal ofChild Psychology and Psychiatry


Children with developmental disabilities are at heightened risk for maltreatment. However, little is known regarding the prevalence of maltreatment among specific groups, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and/or intellectual disability (ID). Information about maltreatment in these groups can aid in the development of supports and prevention strategies for vulnerable children and their families.


Using record linkage between the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) network, this study compares the prevalence and characteristics of maltreatment among children with ASD‐only (n = 316), ASD and comorbid ID (ASD+ID; n = 291), ID‐only (n = 1,280), and controls (n = 3,101). Behavioral correlates of maltreatment are examined.


Controlling for demographic factors, this study found significantly higher odds of reported and substantiated maltreatment among children with ASD‐only (odds ratio = 1.86 for reported, 1.51 for substantiated), ASD+ID (odds ratio = 2.35 for reported, 1.97 for substantiated), and ID‐only (odds ratio = 2.45 for reported, 2.49 for substantiated) relative to a population control group, with large effects. In particular, children with ASD+ID and ID‐only were between two and three times more likely to experience maltreatment. All groups were more likely to experience physical neglect, and children in the ASD+ID and ID‐only groups were more likely to experience all forms of abuse. Children in the ASD‐only group were more likely to experience physical abuse. Maltreated children in the ASD‐only and ID‐only groups experienced more cases of physical abuse and neglect, and were victimized by more perpetrators compared to other maltreated youth. Maltreatment was associated with higher likelihood of aggression, hyperactivity, and tantrums for children with ASD.


Children with ASD and/or ID are at heightened risk for maltreatment. Empirically‐supported assessment and intervention approaches for identifying and addressing traumatic stress related to maltreatment in ASD are urgently needed.


Research type: 
Peer reviewed
Access type: 
Abstract only, subscription required

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