Those of you who have been following my blog for at least a short while will have read about how we have started sending some of our children to school, rather than homeschooling them all. BuddyBoy was the first to start the new trend – he became a student at the Special Developmental School last year, after a lot of hard work to transition him there happily. We were actually surprised by how well he coped with attending school – where rules and regulations mean he’s often completely out of his depth. His teacher and aides last year were great and very understanding, and let him settle at his own pace, while still pushing him gently.
So I was completely surprised when a friend who had a child at the school, pulled me aside one day and told me about what happened to her child at school. It had happened some time prior but she was now wary about how her non-verbal child was being treated. Our greatest worry as parents is if our children were to be abused, particularly as they cannot even tell us. The mainstream news is constantly bringing stories of children being abused at daycare centres, kindergartens, schools and on school buses. We always hope it will never happen to us, but every so often we’ll read a post on facebook of another traumatised parent and child.
Over the last year I heard a couple more stories from parents with children at the school, and I dreaded that something might happen to BuddyBoy one day. Late last year, his school was the subject of an investigation (aired on prime time TV) due to allegations of abuse and seclusion (locking up). I kept a watchful eye out, but decided that while his teachers seemed to be looking after him well, there was no point in panicking. We did have an incident where one day I received a phone call to let me know that BuddyBoy had been targeted by another child in the playground and had received an injury, so I went and picked him up. The other child liked to target children’s heads and slam them into the ground, so my poor baby had quite a headache. I sent him back in the next day, not realising that Lack of Duty of Care would be an issue. I received another phone call to say that the same child had attacked BuddyBoy again. This time he ended up with a concussion.
Not once did I see anything in writing about this. The school has a legal obligation to keep incident records about anything that affects a student – whether it be an injury or a seclusion or restraint, and to inform the parents as soon as possible. Whether they have kept records or not I do not know, as I have never seen them. I was also told the next day that the parents of the attacker had not even been told at the time – something I would appreciate as a parent, particularly as it can affect how my child will behave at home and towards his siblings. After the second attack, strategies were supposedly put in place to stop it happening again – too late for my traumatised son who avoided the playground for some time afterwards. Also not effective for the other children who were later attacked by the same student.
I was never told who the attacker was, only that they played in the same playground and were around the same age as my son. I heard through the grapevine that this child attacked other children in the playground, and it was actually thought by another parent that the attacker was a student in my son’s class. That didn’t mesh with what I had been told, and I wondered at the discrepancy, but in the absence of any proof either way I had to ignore it.
This year my son was placed with another teacher and two new aides – all lovely people who seemed to enjoy looking after their small charges. Most of his friends moved along with him – I say friends, really they’re classmates, but at least they were familiar faces. It didn’t take long for him to settle into his new routine, although he had been unsettled at home and at school since November, 2015. We had a couple of phone calls when he had injured himself (once by pulling his zipper up and getting the skin of his neck caught and subsequently ripping off a flap of skin), but not once did we see an incident report. He was attacked on the way in to school by an older (fully grown) student, and that student’s mother threatened to press charges against US – no incident report. We were told he preferred to be on his own most of the time, but that the staff were not allowed to let him be by himself in a room, as it was considered seclusion, and they had to write an incident report up every single time. None of which we ever saw of course.
BuddyBoy has had huge issues with aggression and self-harm since last November, and we have been trying to find a suitable dose of Risperdal that will calm him without causing major side-effects. (Don’t judge, just read) So far not much luck, as the drug seems to wear off within 2-3 weeks, and the old behaviours start creeping back in. The current paediatrician has left the dosing guideline up to us as he admittedly has never dealt with a child like BuddyBoy before and is lost as to what else to do. The last paed didn’t even want to prescribe meds due to family history of reactions, and BuddyBoy’s own reactions to pretty much everything. The next paed we’re seeing wasn’t available until November, so until then we’re trying to tread water. Naturally this means that there are some times where BuddyBoy can be almost angelic, and other days where he turns into the demon monster from hell and we’re left shaking and bleeding.
His very concerned teacher has been trying to help us ‘get help’ and to continue to enable BuddyBoy to keep coming to school, despite his behaviours. What this means is that she is effectively BuddyBoy’s minder, and the two aides work with the other 8 kids in the classroom, or evacuate the other children when he loses it. We’ve learnt the (very) hard way, that the only way to get through one of his episodes is to wait it out. He is incapable of hearing or seeing at that moment, and the usual practices of deep pressure have no effects. So it’s best to distance everyone and everything and leave him by himself to calm down. I feel terrible that my kid is the one with the bad behaviours that the other kids would pick up, and that they are in danger and have to rearrange their lives because of it. Just the same way that my children cannot have even a semblance of a ‘normal’ childhood because of his behaviours.
A few weeks ago his teacher went away on holidays, and a substitute teacher was brought in. He already had lost his favourite aide who was on extended sick leave, so now he had two new staff to deal with, with very little prior preparation. I was concerned that he would have difficulties with this (resulting in worse behaviour) and that the new staff would not know how to handle him properly. I spoke to the acting principal about my concerns, and was assured that the new teacher knew him very well and that’s why she had been chosen. Also that the new aide had been brought in earlier so he could become familiar with her prior to the teacher commencing her holidays.
Best laid plans didn’t work out very well – term 3 at school is the time of year when nearly everyone gets sick, so there were even more staff changes than anticipated. I was also surprised to hear from my husband that the new teacher had apparently only met BuddyBoy once, the previous year. This was confirmed by her to our liaison from BSS (the student support team working with the school to manage our boy’s challenging behaviour). The BSS worker has been attending the school on several occasions to observe BuddyBoy’s behaviour, with the aim of figuring out ‘what makes him tick’ and how to help him with his behaviour. So far he hasn’t been able to figure it out – not surprising given that I’ve been trying for nearly eight years to do the same without a great deal of success.
Several other things he mentioned in the BSS report also differed to what the school had previously told me, and I made sure to point that out to him, and discuss some of those things with the replacement staff. I had also noticed the disturbing trend over recent week that my boy’s Communication book was coming home from school with very little information in it, and now we had days where nothing was filled in. On some days I would pick him up to be told, “he had a good day” yet I would notice that he had started biting his hand again. On the second day this happened he actually had blood all over his hand as well as his face and nose, and when I asked about this I was told that they thought he must have picked his nose and had a bloody nose. This has happened once before a long time ago, so I accepted that explanation. I did notice that he’d bitten his hand so badly that he ended up with an infected wound, which is still healing.
A couple of weeks ago on a Friday, BuddyBoy hopped in the car and ripped his shirt off – he often doesn’t like wearing nappies or clothing lately. I saw a fresh scratch on the inside of his elbow – his diary mentioned nothing. The following Friday when I picked him up, I saw two scratches on his hip – where they would be if someone had (possibly) accidentally scratched him while trying to pull his nappy up – a task he usually does himself. Nothing was mentioned in his diary.
This week, I received a phone call on Monday morning at 10:45am to tell me that BuddyBoy’s poo was “different” and didn’t look right, and that as he refused to keep his clothes on, it was thought best for the other children if we could come and pick him up. The aide told me she thought he might have diarrhea (gastro has been in the school), and his poo was liquid. BuddyBoy refuses to wear disposable nappies (diapers for you Americans), so his cloth nappies come home with the full contents every day. The contents on this day were not liquidy – they were not solid but they hardly ever are. He definitely did not have diarrhea as he did not do another poo until late that evening, and it was only a small one.
On Tuesday I picked him up at his usual time, to be told by the substitute teacher, “the acting assistant principal wanted me to be sure to tell you that we had to lock BuddyBoy up in the enclosed courtyard (right outside the classroom) for about 10 minutes for the safety of the other children”. I’m used to him being by himself with a teacher/aide watching in the room, or in the sensory room he’s adopted as his own. I know that he prefers to be outside in courtyard area, but I also knew they were not allowed to lock him out there and had to keep the door open, despite his wishing to close it. I asked them what he had done, and the answer was, “I don’t know, I wasn’t there”. Neither was the other aide who was present at pickup time, but I was reassured, “it was for the safety of the other children”. As BuddyBoy is always dragging me out the door to go home, it doesn’t leave me room for detective work, so I had to take him home.
I rang the next day and left a message for the acting Principal to ring me. After waiting a few hours I rang again and asked if she could please email me a copy of the incident report so I could see what had actually happened. I was informed that they were just about to write it (a full 24 hours later) and that I would be sent a standard departmental letter basically to the lines of, “as you know, there was an incident, please call us if you want to discuss it” but with no details. I guess they really don’t like showing their incident reports to anyone, as it was obvious I was not going to get a copy!
She had not been there the previous day, but she had been told that an aide had asked BuddyBoy to put his clothes on so he could go and have a swing, and that he had objected, and decided to attack her. The aide then walked back into the classroom and shut the door behind her, leaving him effectively locked out in the undercover courtyard.
My son loves to swing, and the school uses it when they want to calm him down. If he is playing in the courtyard outside and wants to swing, he will come into the classroom and either verbally tell someone, “swing” or grab the swing PECS card and hand that over. He also knows that he has to put a nappy and clothes on or he’s not allowed to have a swing. He will then either comply if he wants a swing, or walk away if he doesn’t want to get dressed. If he is attacking someone when they are giving him the opportunity to do something he wants to do, he would have been in a pretty bad place already. If that’s actually what happened. And it certainly wasn’t, “for the safety of the other children” in that case either.
I told the acting Principal that I was not sending my son back to school this term (which has only next week left to go), but that I would wait for his regular teacher to be back in Term 4. She said she had thought he’d been doing much better over the last couple of weeks and that it would be a pity if he was to lose those gains. I then explained to her that I was getting the distinct impression from the current staff that they found my son too difficult to deal with and would rather not have him there, and told her about the other incidents. I told her that I needed to be able to sleep at nights without worrying about my son’s safety at school and that right now I did not consider him safe. We also discussed the abysmal communication from the school – something she is trying to change but she is only there for another week herself.
So now we are left with a very upset little boy at home, who is unable to tell us what he’s going on in his own mind, let alone what’s happening to him while we’re not there. He needs a safe environment, which is hard to obtain in a mainstream school that does not have big fences, has large classrooms that can be noisy and chaotic, and that is not set up to change nappies or let him wander around when he feels like it. Nevertheless, this is exactly what we may need to do. Stay tuned for the outcome.