Characteristic Effects & Strategies


The concept of “rights” is generally unknown to children with developmental disabilities


  • Often do not make their own decisions. Persons in charge of them are in total control.
  •  First responder may need to say “ ___ (the person who is in charge of you) wants me to talk with you.”


Taught to be obedient and dependent Reluctant to express negative feelings or a desire for change


  • You can ask if they would like it if “x” stopped happening.


Refusal is not usually acceptable


  • Unlikely to refuse to do anything you ask even if child should. Will not refuse the suspect either.


The Law is seldom understood

  • “Against the Law” or “illegal” may not be fully understood, but is more readily understood than “within the Law,” since “the law” is an abstract concept.


  • Child may think that law enforcement first responder is punishing them for reporting an assault.
  • Child may think that the presence of the first responder is a signal that they are in trouble.
  • Children are often told by their abuser that law enforcement will take them away and break up the family if they tell about the abuse.


  • Tell the child that they are not in trouble and will not get in trouble by telling you what has happened to them.
  • Tell the child that your job is to make sure that children are safe in their homes/schools.


Body Integrity

  • If child requires daily care, child is used to being touched.
  • May be unaware that sexual contact is unusual when done by a care giver.
  • They do know that “it feels wrong,” but are also powerless to make it stop.


Abuse or Assault

  • Concept is unknown.
  • Child can describe what hurts or made them feel bad.


Baladerian, N.J., Heisler, C., & Hertica, M. (n.d.) Child abuse victims with disabilities: A curriculum for law enforcement first responders and child protective services frontline workers-participant manual. California: Child abuse and neglect disability outreach program of arc riverside. Retrieved from