Wasn't planning on another post today, but something happened yesterday that I think is important to talk about here.
Josh was bitten by another child at school. This is not the first time it has happened, it was in fact, the third time in the last couple of months, all by the same child. A child getting hurt at school or being targeted by another child is certainly not unique to special needs children, but dealing with the issue in that respect is an entirely different ball-game on all sides.
On the one hand, I am in Angry Mother-Bear mode, someone HURT MY CHILD. We all have that instinct, the need to protect and keep them safe. It's a big part of our job as parents. When they do get hurt or their safety is compromised, we feel guilty, angry, scared, sad, you name it. With typically developing children however, as they grow up, you transition that responsibility for their safety gradually over to them. We teach them to look both ways before crossing a street, not to touch the stove or iron when it's hot because they could get burned, not to use the stapler on themselves (don't laugh, I did this when I was about 4 or 5 while standing at the counter in a bank with my mom - kids are insane, I actually remember thinking, "I wonder what this would feel like?" and then just stapling my thumb... ), and we can even teach them to stay out of or away from situations/people that might harm them. I can't do this with Josh. He has absolutely no concept of danger, therefore personal safety is also meaningless. So with him it's completely in the hands of the adults that are responsible for him at any given time, whether it's me, his dad, or the staff at his school. So part of me is angry with the grown-ups he was with at the time, especially since this has happened before and I was assured after the first time that the staff had a "plan" in place to make sure that this other child would not ever be close enough to Josh for this to happen again. Clearly that "plan" is not working, since it has happened twice more since then. But I can't really be angry with them, since as a parent I know perfectly well you cannot always keep things from happening even when you are right there. I can't be angry with the other child either. If he were a child without special needs, that would be different. A child without developmental issues can understand right and wrong. Children like Josh and this other little boy, cannot. I feel badly for his parents too, as I know how devastated I would be to find out Josh was hurting another child or children like that, and I know it's not their fault either.
There is responsibility here though and it lies with those that make decisions about staffing. In the world of Special Education as in all types of schooling, it always comes down to money and who gets how much and for what. Giving a child a 1:1 aide costs $$ and many districts will not just hand those out to every teacher who says they need one for one of their kids. It usually needs to be pretty extreme issues of care/safety to get this. Josh had 1:1 for many years when he was younger, primarily because his tantrums were so extreme and prolonged, and he engaged in self-abuse behaviors. In my mind though, any child who is known to be a danger to others should automatically be given 1:1 supervision. The risk that is run when they are not, is too high for everyone involved. You risk other children being hurt, as Josh has been. I am contemplating posting pictures of the bite marks, just so you can see what we are talking about here. Not sure if I should, I'll decide later, but these bites have left CSI-worthy dental impressions complete with bad bruising that lasts a good week or more - and this was through two layers of clothing, including a sweater. So I know these bites were hard. Have you ever been bitten? It's extraordinarily painful. All I can say is thank goodness he wasn't in short sleeves when it's happened, as his injuries would have been pretty severe.
So now what? Well, after discussing the situation with his dad, we have decided that we won't send him back to school until they can come up with a solution to this problem. The easiest and most sensible seems to be to provide the extra staff member so that this other child can have the constant supervision he clearly needs. But I have no idea if the school district will do that. School districts are interesting entities and I think will likely be the subject of another post here down the road. So the question is, how far do we take this? As Josh's mother I cannot bring myself to send him knowingly back in to a situation that I now consider un-safe. I wouldn't be doing my job if I did. Here in Washington state however, we have a law called the Becca Bill which allows the state to go after parents whose children are absent from school more than a certain percentage of time. As an example, let me just throw this at you: when Josh gets sick, you can pretty much count on his having to be out of school for at least a week, sometimes a little longer. This is just the way he is when he gets ill, things tend to linger with him. I get letters from the school, warning me that they will invoke the Becca Bill if he misses any more, and this is after he has been SICK and they know he has been sick. Seems to be taking the Bill out of its intended context, which is truly negligent parents who don't know where their kids are or simply don't send them to school or provide any alternate form of education. Regardless, this is what we deal with. So now I have him home, he is not sick, and I honestly don't know how long it will be before we get some resolution on the issue. If they tell us he has to come back or they will take us to court using the Becca Bill, do we come back with the pictures I have of these injuries and counter sue? How far do we take this? This is what his dad asked me and we decided we were in agreement that Josh's well being was worth it even if it means a court fight. But really, that would be the last thing any of us needs to be dealing with, let's hope it doesn't come to that.
Behind this surface issue of there needing to be appropriate measures in place to keep our kids safe, there is the more difficult one of dealing with your child being hurt in the first place. A child who doesn't understand except that he has been hurt a few times now, all I can think is does he wonder why I haven't helped him? Does it scare him? And I just die inside. Josh first started school when he was three. In Washington, once children who need special services reach three years old they move from Early Intervention to the school districts. Three. I had to take my three year old to a regular elementary school. The program and teacher were great, but it was still a very difficult thing, especially since at that time he was in the uber-tantrum and self-abuse phase of his existence (we'll talk about that in detail another time). He had only been at school for about two months when one day I brought him home, was changing him and noticed he was covered in bruises. Covered. I was horrified and completely stunned. I took the rest of his clothes off.... they were everywhere, finger-tip shaped bruises all over his little body, as well as a large, circular pattern of bruising in the center of his back. I was beside myself, honestly the emotion was the worst combination of heartbreak, rage, and guilt you could ever possibly imagine. We kept him out of school, had the requisite meetings and were told that the staff working with him to that point just didn't have the necessary training to handle him during his tantrums - they were trying to hold him so that he wouldn't keep hitting himself (which he did at that stage), but in the process held him too hard and at one point tried holding him in a chair, hence the bruising on his back. So we informed them we had taken photos, and that they had better provide him with staff who had appropriate training. Turned out that was quite effective. But the damage was done, no pun intended. I can't tell you how hard it is trusting others to care for and be responsible for him at this point. If anyone ever wonders why I will not ever have him take the bus or go to the camps that his teachers keep pressing me about, this post is your answer. At not yet 12 he has been injured badly enough like this 4 times now - that first incident and now the three bites.
I know that school is good for him, the routine and the structure work well for him and it keeps him busy. When he is on breaks for too long he gets bored and then destructive, which is not good, and I can't enforce structure at home the way they do at school, he is very rigid about those worlds being separate. All I want is to keep him safe and happy and it kills me that he's had to go through all this.
Edit for update: A meeting with the school district SpEd co-ordinator and the school staff is scheduled for Monday April 19th, we'll see what comes of it then. In the meantime, he is at home with me.