Pam asks: “My non-verbal 6-year-old came home from school today with bite marks on his forearm and thigh. My friends think I should call the police and my husband says we need to contact the school and bus company first. I don’t want people thinking we did this to him. What do we do?”
Pam, you are experiencing every special-needs parent’s worst fear. You send your son to a place he’s supposed to be safe and he’s coming home with unexplained injuries.
I would first recommend getting in touch with the school. Set up a time to talk (in-person if possible) about the various marks you’ve been seeing with his teacher, aide, bus driver and/or whoever else might be in charge of him while he’s at school. Before jumping to conclusions or making any accusations, just ask. Maybe there is a simple answer that will resolve the issue before it ever happens again. Don’t allow your mind to go wild down the “what-if” rabbit hole. Don’t guess… just ask.
Next, Document, document, document. There are a few ways to do this….
-A daily notebook. Get a little binder or note-pad that goes back and forth so you can write any existing injuries and then throughout the day if he sustains any new injuries the school can write in the notebook what happened. This serves as a record that he did not have any injuries when you sent him to school but came home with some. This also serves to keep everyone accountable to providing an explanation of how he gets various marks on his body. The purpose is not to point fingers, but rather to have documentation of when and where he is getting injuries.
-A body chart to be sent to school each day. It may look something like the picture below. Each day you would fill one out before dropping him off at school. Be sure to write the date on it so you know which chart is which. Fill out the chart by marking any injuries with an X and writing next to each X what the injury is (scratch, cut, bruise, burn, bite marks, etc). Once he arrives at school the teacher can review it and fill out what she sees upon arrival. Then at the end of the school day the teacher, aide, etc would fill out another one. Having a pre-school and post-school body chart will serve as a comparison, and proof that these injuries are being sustained at school. Again, this isn’t to put blame on the school, but it’s to build your case that something is going on that is outside of your purview. These charts require a thorough body scan (excluding private parts, and can exclude covered body parts if you feel more comfortable with that). I would also suggest having a line where whoever filled out the body chart can sign their name. This way you have another party verifying when injuries are sustained.
Next, you want to figure out when these injuries are occurring, which will help you know how to stop them. Ask to schedule an observation so you can see what happens throughout his day. Does he play at recess with an aggressive peer? Is he being bullied in the bathroom? Is he biting himself when he’s frustrated with the assignments? It will also help you see what the school is doing about it. Do they even notice? Do they step in to protect him? Getting to see his day first hand may help give you an idea of what’s going on.
Lastly, if the school cannot provide you with a reasonable explanation for why he has bite marks on his arms you may need to hire an advocate who can help you navigate your parent rights within the school district. Hopefully it won’t come to this point, but if you’re certain he’s not getting these marks at home then the school should be able to provide you a reasonable explanation.
We wish you the best as you fight for your son and his protection. Emotions can run high when you feel your child is unsafe or in danger, but remember to keep calm and just ask questions. Keep your thoughts in check and steer clear of “what-if” and worst-case-scenario thinking. You will figure this out!
-Angelina M. MS, BCBA
Angelina works as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, specializing in treating children and adolescents with autism, down-syndrome, and other developmental delays. She began her career in Applied Behavior Analysis in 2006, following her youngest brother’s autism diagnosis, and has since worked with dozens of children and families. She also writes a blog about her experiences as both a professional and a big sister. Her brother, Dylan, remains her most powerful inspiration for helping others facing similar challenges. Learn more about Angelina and her blog, The Autism Onion, and www.theautismonion.com or www.facebook.com/theautismonion
This article was featured in Issue 26 – A Season of Peace