O.U.R. Children, Students & Peers

Observe, Understand & Respond

Harold Johnson/Professor
Michigan State University – College of Education – Deaf Education
Teacher Preparation Program

Children with disabilities experience child abuse and neglect (CA/N) at a rate that is 3.4 times greater than their nondisabled peers. [1]. Unfortunately, while this higher incidence of CA/N has been repeatedly substantiated [2,3,4,5] it has not resulted in more services for children with disabilities.  As a result, while children with disabilities are significantly more likely to experience CA/N, they are significantly less likely to receive needed support [6].  This situation must not continue. 

Observe, Understand and Respond is a concept.  It is a concept based on the knowledge that most children that are experiencing CA/N demonstrate both known and observable patterns of behavior [7].  It is a concept based on the belief that parents and professionals can be taught how to Observe, Understand and Respond to their children.  It is a concept that if proven successful, can serve to not only reduce the duration, if not the incidence of CA/N, but also enhance the learning and language of children with disabilities. 

Hearing loss is the most common birth defect within the United States.[8]  As a result, all children born in U.S. hospitals are now to be screened for the presence of a hearing loss.[9] This screening, and the subsequent follow-up services, has the potential to provide families of newly identified infants who are d/hh with the critical knowledge and skills that that needed to effectively nurture their child’s development.  While learning how to observe and interact with their children is a critical component of such follow-up services, awareness of CA/N, how to identify situations that put their child at risk and how to recognize if their, or another child, has possible been the victim abuse is not part of the curriculum.  If we can effectively inform parents how to Observe, Understand and Respond to their children, plus be aware of their child’s increased risk for CA/N, then we have the very real potential to avoid the horrific incidences of CA/N that are so frequently experienced by children who are d/hh[10]

Your participation is invited as Hands & Voices joins a project of Michigan State University to determine if parents of both newly identified and older children who are d/hh can be taught how to Observe, Understand and Respond to their children.  This project could also be used to explore to the extent to which existing face-to-face and online CA/N related services and resources are both available to, and effective with, children who are d/hh.  The knowledge and resources that such a project would produce could also be used to help families increase their sensitivity to this issue, and to enhance the preparation and professional development of professionals who work with K-12 students who are d/hh.  Given emerging research[11], most Deaf Education professionals are ill prepared to either Observe, Understand and Respond to their students, or recognize potential perpetrators among their peers.


1 Sullivan and Knutson, 2000
2 Durity & Oxman, 2006
3 Obina, Krueger, Ostergaan, Sadusky & DeVore, 2005
4 Shakeshaft, 2004
5 Wills & Vernon, 2002
6 Kendall-Tackett, Lyno, Tallaferro & Little, 2005
7 Sullivan, Brookhouser & Scanlan, 2000
8 National Center for Hearing Assessment, 2009
9 CDC, 2009
10 Abuse victims, 2008; Catalanello, 2008; Lauinger & Viekind, 2007; Sweet, 2008
11 Johnson & Whipple, 2009

Reference List

Abuse victims urge others to come forward Pervert preyed on deaf boys in terror trips (2008). Evening Times (Glasgow), p. 7.

Catalanello, R. (2008). Mental health center denies abuse allegations. St. Petersburg Times, pp. 1A.

CDC (2009). Early Hearing Detection & Intervention (EHDI) Program.  Retrieved January 14, 2009, from http://www.cdc.gov/

Durity, Richard & Oxman, Amy (2006).  Addressing the Trauma Treatment Needs of Children Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing and the Hearing Children of Deaf Parents.  Retrieved January 11, 2009, from http://www.nctsnet.org/

Johnson, H., & Whipple, E. (2009).  Child abuse and neglect: Our existing and needed knowledge. [manuscript under development]

Kendall-Tackett, K., Lyon, T., Tallaferro, G., & Little, L. (2005).  Why child maltreatment researchers should include children’s disability status in their maltreatment studies.  Child Abuse & Neglect, 29(2), 147-151. 

Lauinger, J., & Viekind, J. (2007). Wild fondling spree Man gropes 4 women, girl in 30 minutes – cops. Daily News (New York), pp 22.

National Center for Hearing Assessment (2009). Incidence of childhood hearing loss. Retrieved January 14, 2009, from http://www.hearandnow.org/

Obinna, Jennifer, Krueger, Sarah, Osterbaan, Constance, Sadusky, Jane M, DeVore, Wendy (2005). Understanding the Needs of the Victims of Sexual Assault in the Deaf Community: A Needs Assessment and Audit. Retrieved January 11, 2009 from http://www.ncjrs.gov/

Shakeshaft, C. (2004). Educator Sexual Misconduct: A synthesis of existing literature. U.S. Dept of Education (purchase order ED-02-PO-3281) Policy and Program Studies Service. Retrieved January 11, 2009 from http://www.ed.gov/

Sullivan, P.M., & Knutson, J.F. (2000). Maltreatment and disabilities: A population-based epidemiological study. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24(10), 1257-1273.

Sullivan, P. M., Brookhouser, P., & Scanlan, M. (2000). Maltreatment of deaf and hard of hearing children, Ch. 7, pp149-184. In Hindley, Peteer & Kitson, Nick (Ed.) Mental Health and Deafness, Whurr Publishers, London & Philadelphia.

Sweet, L. (2008). Rape of two deaf girls lands Medford man in mail for life. Retrieved on January 11, 2009 from http://news.bostonherald.com/

Willis, Richard G., & Vernon, McCay (2002). Residential psychiatric treatment of emotionally disturbed deaf youth. American Annals of the Deaf, 147(1), pp 31-37.