Bridget has a fantastic program at her school. While it is not as inclusive as I would like, I will not deny how far she has come this year. Her language? It has exploded to where the need to translate for her. She can now jump. She can now escape the house. She can also steal a half-moon cookie and eat it for breakfast.
Here is what Bridget cannot do:
She cannot tell me about her day.
She cannot dress herself.
She cannot use the bathroom without assistance.
She cannot tell me if she has been hurt.
Bridget frequently comes home with bruises. She cannot tell me where they came from. She has a scratch on her arm, she does not have the recall to tell me if she was itchy. One day she came home with a bump on her forehead.
No clue as to why.
I’m not accusing the school or any of her classmates. I do not believe she is being abused. I do believe she is accident prone due to poor balance issues and hypotonia. I know her teachers, therapists and ESPs love her like their own.
What if we were not so lucky?
A friend of mine (in another state) has a nonverbal niece. Last year she got off the bus covered in bite and scratch marks. There was no ESP on the bus, the bus driver was doing her job (paying attention to the road). There had never been a prior incident regarding any of the children on the bus. The little girl walks off the bus, tears streaming down her face. The Dad asks the bus driver if something happened at school. He checks her backpack for a note, for something to explain the bite marks on his child’s arms.
She cannot tell him who hurt her (there was more than one other child on the bus). The teacher swears nothing had happened in school that day. It “must have” happened on the bus. The bus driver never heard a peep.
Because the child is non-verbal and had no way to alert the bus driver that she was being abused.
This is one case of many. One case of too many. Children with developmental disabilities are 3.7 times more likely to suffer abuse than their peers and 4.6 times more likely to be sexually abused. Personally, I have heard too many stories that make me lose sleep at night.
Bridget is FOUR times more likely to be sexually abused than her sister. That thought just made me sick to my stomach. That any child is at risk is too disturbing. That my child who may never be able to tell me that she has been hurt keeps me up at night. As she gets older, Bridget is more at risk to be bullied, to be “talked” into situations that she is unprepared to deal with and to be exploited for a classmate’s amusement.
I have taught her sister about stranger danger. I have had “the talk” about what to do if she is uncomfortable, how to stand up for herself (and others) and reminded her that there is nothing, nothing she cannot tell me.
Bridget cannot tell me if she had art or gym at school today. How can she tell me that the bruise on leg, her arm or her back. I wonder how scary it would be for me, if I did not trust her team.
Yet how do you write stranger danger into the same IEP that you write a socialization program? How do you teach community leaders and the way to greet a person while teaching a child not to talk to strangers? Everyone is a stranger to Bridget, every one is the recipient of her no-sense-of-personal-space hug. She does not differientiate between a person she has never met versus a person who she has known her whole life. Sometimes she is shy, sometimes she is defiant, most times she offers a smile and a hug.
When I teach her to look at someone and greet them, I am not teaching her that sometimes it is better to keep walking. She does not have a safe word or any knowledge that someone might hurt her.
I don’t know what the answer is, I do not know how to teach Bridget that not all people in the world are good.
Hell, I don’t even always have the words to teach her sister.
I know it’s important.
I just wish I knew how to keep her safe and to tell me when she is not.