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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"Ouch"

One day, when our older son was seven, he approached me in the kitchen after school.

"Ouch," he said.

"Where do you ouch?" I asked, knowing full well that he would not be able to respond to my "where" question. He was still working on the five w's (who, what, where, when and why). "Uh-oh!" I said. "You ouch!"

"Ooouuuuch," he continued.

I started to investigate. Pointing to his stomach, the usual culprit. "Ouch?" I asked.

"All done," he said. No. Not his stomach.

I kept looking.

His face was fine. Feet, knees and legs were fine. I took his right arm in my hands and pulled back the sleeve. My heart sank. On his forearm in bright red was the imprint of his teeth. Further up his arm were bruises. There was a bruise on his shoulder.

I felt sick to my stomach.

Our son had not up until then been an aggressive child. At that point, any type of "behaviors" that school was trying to address were aimed more toward walking and attending--sitting for any length of time and being able to walk in the hall without breaking out into a sprint to a different direction.

How did he get the bite mark?

For him to bite himself, there was an issue. For there to be bruises on his arm, there was an issue. I ran to his communication log, his collection of daily notes which ran back and forth between home and school. No mention of what might have brought about these injuries.

"Oh, buddy!" I said to him. "I see! I see your ouch! But, I'm sorry I don't know what caused it. Mama will find out. I'm so sorry!" I felt helpless. Our son was trying to tell me about something that happened in his day, yet he didn't have the language. I can only imagine how awful that might have felt.

"Ouch," he said.

I pressed for communication over the next day and learned that he was no longer responding to the methods used by the teacher. In an effort to avoid work, he was throwing himself onto the floor, kicking at walls and at aides in his path. His size was an advantage, and they were growing weary of him.

It was his second year in that classroom. The first had been outstanding. The trick was to keep the momentum (or something close to it) as he grew and changed.

These "behaviors", I was told, must be shaped. They were not acceptable. I was unsure. If these were "behaviors", why did I not see them anywhere else? I viewed his actions to be communication. After all, he couldn't voice his opinion. Couldn't the program be changed to better suit his needs? No, I was told. They had changed all they could. He was the problem.

How is any child a problem?

"Ouch," he said to me again one day not long after the first incident. I looked at his leg. It was bruised. I grabbed my camera and began to document all of the marks.

I wanted to cry, but I didn't want him to see. I wanted to scream, but I didn't want to scare him. I was held hostage by the circumstances.

Nothing of usual course happens very quickly within the school district. Our son is nonverbal. His teacher was a good teacher. And, yet, he was coming home with bruises. This was not normal. New to school "behaviors", we had to work through the proper channels.

"Ouch," he said to me another day. More bruises on his wrist. What was going on?

I checked the communication log, and my world changed. That was the day I learned that, in his school less than one minute from our home, our seven-year-old had been pinned to the ground in a hold by five adults for more than 45 minutes.

Why didn't they just call me?

In the gym and unable to process the noise, he had thrown himself to the ground in rebellion. They were unsure how to move him. There were children on the other half of the room, and the adults feared that our son could be a safety risk. In our state, if there is a question of safety, unless otherwise specified in the child's paperwork, he can be placed into a hold.

That day was a loss of innocence for our son and his parents both.

"Ouch!" he had said to me and this time brought my own finger to point to the marks on his wrist.

Hell hath no fury like the mother of a nonverbal child who comes home hurt from school. No one. I no longer entirely trusted a soul with the care of our child.

For the record, please know that my husband and I respect educators. Indeed, we need educators because we cannot further our children in life on our own. At the same time, we also recognize that sometimes, for whatever reason, the method of teaching stops working, or the chemistry is no longer good--or maybe in some cases the chemistry never was good.

Courage is listening to the child.

"Ouch" was the simple yet heart-wrenching word from our son that forever changed the game in what documents travel with him as he moves through the educational system in our area.

To all of my fellow special needs parents, I encourage you to educate yourselves on your local guidelines regarding the use of restraint and seclusion with the ones you love.


This entry was written in response to the letter prompt "O" in the Blogging A to Z April 2012.

20 comments:

  1. Hanna Jensen FinlandApril 17, 2012 at 6:49 AM

    All I can think of at the moment: How is any child a problem? Exactly. HOW????

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    1. Trying to put myself in their position, all I can say is that they had reached a point of extreme frustration. So glad to have moved forward with the education to be able to protect him.

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  2. he can be placed into a hold.

    as soon as i read that i held my breath...........

    (((((((((((((( hugs ))))))))))))))) i just always want to hug you after every post i read...my nose is burning again

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  3. The lack of communication from the school is so alarming. As parents of children who are non-verbal, or in my case, have limited functional verbal skills, you would think parent-teacher communication would be almost constant and full of details. Sad to say it is not so. Most days we get a prep-printed form with a happy face circled and have to look to his behavior for information. I'm glad you discovered the source of his "ouch." Thanks for the advice.

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    1. Have you had your CSE for next year? You can specify the type of communication you have with school in the IEP. You may never get perfect, but you can get better!

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    2. We have the IEP meeting next week - and communication is at the top of the agenda!

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  4. i remember how frustrating i can be--from when my daughter attended school---sorry you are having to deal with so much uncertainty

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  5. OMG, I can't believe your son came home covered with bruises and it is OK for them to hold him down. That would NOT be OK in my book. Special needs or not. It is never OK in my book to abuse a kid or anyone. Prayers for you on this one.

    Kathy
    http://gigglingtruckerswife.blogspot.com

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    1. We are educated. Pray for the kids of parents who don't know that they have a say. Kathy, it is a hard topic. Some educators really believe in this method. I do not. I don't want to bash educators here. But I do disagree with their use of restraint on my child.

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  6. A learning experience? I am afraid I would have been in jail! I know nothing good would come from that, but I am outraged and angry and so disappointed. No child should be restrained for 45 minutes when a parent can be reached to help out.
    And what training does one have that teaches in such frustration that holding a child down is the solution?
    Ouch, indeed! ♥ to T and his mama.

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    1. I was very angry. Ahowever, anger and emotion are signs of weakness in negotiations, my friend. :). I was weak. I stayed quiet and let my husband talk for me when I couldn't. It was a team effort.

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  7. Amy, I respect educators as well, and think you are being quite nice here. I am in tears over this. Not sure how I would've handled this or what I would've done. I hear these stories filter through our community and it fills me with rage and sadness for the kids who have no voice. Wait, they have a voice, they communicate, it is whether we choose to listen or acknowledge it. Going to put this on my FB page and tweet. Thank you for being so courageous to share it. Hugs for your ouch.

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    1. Oh, Cari, I've had a couple years to gather my thoughts. I was angry. I was sad. I was upset and felt betrayed. Worse, I felt trapped. I advise any parent in this situation to chip away. Educate yourself. Ask questions. Avoid complacency.

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  8. I was the director of a group home for several years (the kids were verbal, though) and we were very clear on the use of physical restraint or seclusion and what situations might require it. I also personally called the parents within an hour of every single restraint we used, as well as meeting with the child to process when s/he was calm.

    I absolutely cannot imagine the horror of finding out that your child was being restrained without your knowledge. I'm sure it was buried in the paperwork somewhere when you enrolled him, but it ENRAGES me to think that this was not explicitly mentioned by the staff. And why in the world weren't you notified after each restraint? It boggles my mind. I'm so sorry. Your anger and sense of betrayal is completely justified.

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    1. Thanks for visiting. I really appreciate your comments. Many parents visit this blog, and the more comments they read, the more they learn!

      This happened because we had not before experienced aggression at school. Nothing in his behavioral plan covered aggression. I didn't even know what a behavioral plan was....to be sure, I didn't know what a crisis plan was. School should have seen the first signs of aggression and thought those things through. They should have written out the "what ifs". His paperwork was incomplete.

      In our district, if there is no paperwork regarding how to handle a child, and if those in charge of the child feel that there is a safety risk, they may put the child in a hold. End of story.

      It saddens and sickens me.

      Moving forward, I urge parents and caregivers to review the regulations in your area. Make sure your loved ones are legally covered in the manner that you want them to be should a situation like this arise. Every person is different and every family has different dreams for their loved ones.

      For the record, our child was put in a hold only once. The other bruises were coming from struggle at school when he was showing that the program wasn't working. I contend that such struggles could have and should have been seen as warning signs. At the very least, they are communication that things are not working.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

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  9. So sorry to hear you had to go through that. Our child was aggressive, and the school district and we were taught early on how to restrain him properly, only because people were hurt by him if he wasn't restrained. He has been in 4 different school districts, and honestly, I'm glad to have him out of all but where he is now - a residential school. And, their policy is to take the child to a quiet room and wait until the child learns to control him/herself, even if it takes hours. My son's been there for almost 5 years now, and when he was first there, he was in the quiet room several times a day. Now, months will go by, which is amazing to us and proof of the possibility of learning and maturity of these kids.

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