Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…
Autism Safety in School
4 Tips to Keep Your Child with Autism Safe in School
School – it’s the one place where you might think you don’t have to worry about autism safety. You think you can drop your kids off in the morning, and leave them in good hands. Whether or not their curriculum is perfectly suited to them is one question, but you think that at least they will be physically and emotionally safe. Sadly, this is not always the case.
It is not our desire to overly alarm anyone reading this newsletter. The world is dangerous enough without having to worry about autism safety at school. But most parents have at least had the idea cross their minds once or twice, “What if something happened at school and he couldn’t tell us about it?” The fact is non-verbal autistic kids are ripe for abuse. The painstaking truth is that their lack of ability to communicate makes some authority figures more likely to take advantage of them. How can you protect your kids when they’re at school?
We do not want to provide an extensive list of abuses that can and do happen at schools with disabled kids, as that would only serve to inflame nightmares and ensure that no one reading this would be able to sleep tonight. However, a little information and an ounce of prevention go a long way in ensuring autism safety at school. Preventing verbal, physical or sexual abuse is the goal. These things can come in many forms.
Autism Safety at School – Ways to Keep Your Child Safe
1. Drop in Unannounced Regularly to Ensure Autism Safety
It is too easy to cover up abusive behavior if you know a parent is coming for a visit. When you drop your child off at school, hang back a bit and observe what they do. If your schedule permits, come in at lunch time and hide yourself from view to see what happens. Drop in the classroom to see what your child is up to. If the administration gives you any trouble with this – well, then you already have one possible sign that something might not be quite right in the autism safety department.
2. Watch for Changes in Behavior, Mood, etc
Has your child become more clingy lately? Do they throw tantrums when it’s time to get ready for school? Have they developed phobias of certain things or places they never had any problems with before? These may be a sign that something is not right at school. If there is an increase in anxiety, in aggressive behavior, or other personality changes, it may mean a little investigation is warranted into the autism safety of the school situation. Are you getting reports that your child has all of a sudden become aggressive at school? Many times, a child is acting out because of abuse or mistreatment at school that they may not be able to tell you about.
3. Use Cameras and Audio Recorders if you Really Want to Find Out What’s Going On
One father wanted to find out what was happening when his 10 year old son with autism suddenly began acting out at school. So he put a wire on his son to record what was going on around him. This can be one way to judge matters of autism safety when you cannot be in the environment and your child cannot tell you what is going on.
What transpired was a record of hours upon hours of verbal abuse that the father would not have otherwise had any way to know about.
Another possibility for monitoring your child when you’re not around is a hidden camera. It would be nice if cameras could be standard features in schools to prevent incidents of abuse and increase autism safety, but unfortunately as of yet they are not.
However… Remember the NannyCam craze? Parents would hide hidden cameras in stuffed animals, potted plants or other innocuous places to find out what was really going on when they were gone. There is no reason the same principle cannot be applied to raise the autism safety of school. If the child has a stuffed animal they like to lug around… if you can put one on a necklace or piece of jewelry… it may be possible to do a hidden camera method.
4. Make Sure You Are Aware of Your School’s Policies on Discipline
Different schools use different ways to discipline kids, especially kids with behavior problems. They are not always methods that you or I would approve of. Make sure you become well acquainted with your school’s policies on these issues to increase autism safety.
Some schools, it is unfortunate to say, even go so far as using electric shocks, paddling, isolation booths, or physical restraints to “deal with” kids who have behaviors that are troublesome. Kids with disabilities are usually the ones that find themselves in this situation. This is not to say that all schools do this. A great majority of schools are probably very safe and certainly not all use devices such as this. But you never know until you inquire. Do NOT be afraid to make a pest out of yourself. Do NOT stop until you know the truth. It’s also a good idea to network with other parents of kids with autism or other disabilities to find out what their experiences have been regarding discipline practices at school.
Request your child’s records and files and check for anything you have not been informed about. If something seems different with your child- maybe an unexplained cut or bruise, or maybe they are just acting differently, keep a detailed record of this. Involve a doctor if you are not comfortable with the given explanation of your child’s condition.
In order to promote autism safety, do not allow words such as holding, restricting, pinning, isolation, limited movement, confinement or anything similar in your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Program). These are often indicative of restraining or isolation practices. Instead, come up with safe ways to de-escalate your child after problematic behavior.
It does no good to worry needlessly about whether your child is safe at school, but if you take these steps, you will sleep better at night. They are good “just in case” steps to take, although it is unfortunate that we need them. Autism safety at school is dependent on good communication with your child’s teachers and staff, awareness of the situation at all times, and being proactive in monitoring the situation and taking action if needed.
And for more information on helping with the symptoms of high functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome read The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide, also check out Craig Kendall’s latest book, New Hope for Autism