New research suggests that children with autism are much more likely than other kids to be mistreated, according to a wide-ranging review of reports to child abuse hotlines.

A study looking at all children born in 2008 in 11 Tennessee counties found that those with autism were two-and-a-half times more likely to be reported by age 8 than those without the developmental disorder.

Researchers cross-referenced data on 24,306 children collected through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring network with state child protection records.

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Among children with autism, 17.3 percent were referred to a child abuse hotline, according to findings published recently in the journal Autism. By comparison, 7.4 percent of other kids were the subject of such calls.

It’s unclear what’s driving the disparity in cases of potential abuse, but Zachary Warren of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center who worked on the study said that behavior issues and other factors associated with autism could make those on the spectrum more vulnerable.

“If roughly 1 in 5 children with autism is reported to the Department of Child Services (DCS), we need to make sure there is awareness of how common this is and further educational and service system partnerships to optimize our ability to respond,” Warren said. “This represents a very vulnerable population, and we have a responsibility to work with mandated reporters, service providers, school systems and those who respond to these allegations to make sure they’re equipped with all the tools necessary to meet the complex needs of these children.”

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