“People with DD are more likely to be exposed to trauma AND exposure to trauma makes DD more likely”
While there has been an explosion of information about the impact of traumatic life events and trauma-informed care in the fields of mental health, education, homelessness, and criminal justice, comparatively little has written about these topics related to people with developmental disabilities. Many in the DD field have received little training in psychological trauma. For this reason, the Traumatic Stress Institute is working on an adaption of Risking Connection for people who treat and support people with DD.
Developmental disability is a very broad term encompassing people with intellectual disabilities to autism spectrum to medically-related impairments. However, research, not surprisingly, has found that people with developmental disabilities have alarmingly high rates of trauma — Individuals with disabilities are four times more likely to be victims of crimes as non-disabled (Sobsey, 1996); prevalence of sexual abuse for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is 16.6 percent compared to 8 percent for general population; the risk of abuse increases 78 percent due to exposure to the disability service system (Sobsey & Doe, 1991).
People with disabilities are more vulnerable at every point in the “lifecycle of a traumatic event.” Because of limited knowledge, social skills, and verbal skills, they are more vulnerable to being exposed to abuse. They are less likely to tell someone about the abuse. If exposed, they may be limited in their ability to make sense of the experience. They are likely to display more trauma-related symptoms and behaviors. Their capacity to heal may be limited by their disability. They face immense stigma and marginalization by society at large which may be traumatic in itself or make traumatic experiences worse.
For ideas about using a trauma informed approach with people with developmental disabilities click here: