By Diane Ponist
When raising a child with special needs you face struggles that many people could never understand. Of course, there are more rewards than challenges, and we chose our two special needs children. But even with having an advance idea of what to expect, it is still very tough at times.
It helps a bit to research the situations we might face and how to deal with the symptoms, but reading up is not enough when living through the day to day. Constant therapies, meltdowns, preventing their suffering, hurt, and frustrations.
One issue I have and will probably always have, is trust. I have a huge problem with trusting people in general with my children, especially the two that are non-verbal. What if something happens? They won’t be able to verbally defend themselves. The news reports all the time about non-verbal children being abused by teachers and therapists – people usually trusted the most.
Our own nightmare came true about a year ago. “DeAndre”, who is autistic, was struck by one of his teachers at school. At the time he was non-verbal, but his speech was improving. He did tell me weeks after the incident, but he thankfully was smart enough to find his own way to get the help he needed.
Around the time that this happened, he was acting out. Literally acting out what had happened…and we had no idea. At one point we even gave him a time out, thinking he was mocking his teacher. Here the whole time, he was trying his best to let us know something very wrong happened.
About three weeks after he was hit, he and I were home alone. I was on the laptop on one couch and DeAndre was texting my phone from his innotab about five feet away. (Most of the time it is easier for him to text us back and forth rather than try physically to have an actual verbal conversation.) Anyway, he acted it out in his texting. He typed out play-by-play and gave details of what led up to the words “mrs C hit me”.
Immediately I put my phone down, and asked him to come and stand in front of me. He had tears in his eyes. I said to my son, “please point to where she hit you.” He pointed to his mouth. I asked how many times, he put his fingers up to represent the amount. I hugged him, “I’m so sorry that happened. Mom and Mommy are going to protect you…no one is allowed to hurt you.”
All I remember is shaking uncontrollably, then texting my wife that I needed to talk to her right away. My mind was racing. I couldn’t wrap my head around how this had happened to us. We adopted him from the foster system; this isn’t supposed to happen under our watch! Could he be making this up? We actually thought that in the beginning. But then children with autism rarely lie. And the specific details he gave told us he was not making it up.
Of course Kristin was beside when I showed her the text and explained everything to her. We placed a call to the police, child line, and to school officials The following day I spoke to all necessary individuals and the teacher was suspended for one week with pay . After a long grueling fight with the intermediate unit, the teacher was eventually fired.
My point is, regardless of how safe you think your kids are, things happen unexpectedly. Even when you feel you can trust certain people around your child, you never really know. Now that he was adopted, this child was supposed to be safe now. The one place I swore nothing would ever happen to him was at school.
We are extremely thankful that Deandre is so smart and found a way to tell us what happened. If your child is acting differently, out of the norm, always consider the reasons why.