The back story … By The Grace of God
First thing first, Luau spoke with the director of the center. To her credit, she called him first thing in the morning. She was as apologetic as the therapist who had written to me the night before.
She assured him that she is drafting a new, stricter policy re dismissals. She told him that she would personally oversee every transition for the next two weeks to ensure that the procedures were being followed and to troubleshoot should anything unexpected arise. She told him that she was devastated that this had happened on her watch.
In the meantime, I asked for help. I sent the following e-mail to everyone who touches Brooke at school – her classroom teachers, her aide, the inclusion specialist, the school psychologist, her speech therapist, her occupational therapist, her social thinking therapist and the BCBA who oversees her programs along with her private SLP and Dr Dreamy.
Dear Team Brooke,
I’ve been meaning to write to you all following our team meeting, mostly to thank each of you for all that you are doing to contribute to Brooke’s success this year and also to follow up on a couple of things that we ran out of time to mention. I’ll send that soon. In the meantime, however, we wanted to let you know about a very unsettling occurrence yesterday.
As many of you know, Brooke participates in a social skills group at the *** Center. The other child in the group, L is a girl that she’s known ever since preschool and really likes (she’s also on the spectrum and they had services together at [the preschool]). Yesterday, L’s mom planned to pick up both girls and take them to their house for a play date. She was a couple of minutes late picking them up. Apparently, no one checked to ensure that there was an adult there for them to meet and they were let out into the waiting room alone.
As L’s mom walked toward the center, she happened upon the girls, walking hand in hand – they were now across the street, a full block away and rounding the corner toward *** Street. L told her that they were walking home.
Needless to say, this whole incident has us rattled. We reviewed it with Brooke this morning and talked to her about never leaving a building without a grown-up, but we’re not entirely sure that it sunk in and we’d like to ask for some reinforcement. If someone (C**? J**? N**?) has a social story on this, that would be extremely helpful. Any conversation around the topic (leaving school, maybe – check that we have a grown-up?) would be greatly appreciated. Also, hoping for some guidance as to whether we make it a hard and fast rule or talk about exceptions like fire drills. Oy.
We feel incredibly blessed that by the grace of God she’s safe, but the incident served as a wake up call.
Thank you so much for your help. As always, it’s very, very much appreciated.
Team meeting e-mail to follow when I stop shaking.
The social thinking therapist wrote back immediately promising a social story. The inclusion specialist followed. After speaking with Brooke’s aide, she suggested using PixWriter, the PECS style writing tool that Brooke loves, to allow Brooke to write her own ‘social story’ / ‘rules’ so as to help her internalize the expectations in various situations. They also came up with a plan to begin talking about what to do if a fire alarm goes off and she’s in the bathroom or otherwise separated from an adult. They plan to incorporate the language and practice prior to the next announced fire drill, then be prepared as a team to try it out.
Her private SLP wrote back to say that it looked like some good plans were in motion, but offered her support if there was anything she could do. I thought she actually might be the most crucial part of the plan.
I asked her to reinforce all of this in their next few sessions. Once they feel confident that Brooke knows what to do, Luau will not be in the waiting room, as he always is, as the sessions let out. Instead, he will be outside the building where they can’t see him (manning the door as a safety net). Ms S will let Brooke out into the waiting room alone and say goodbye (something she would NEVER actually do) so that Brooke can practice (hopefully) coming back to tell her that her Dad’s not there.
And then I called the director of the center myself. I knew Luau had spoken with her. I knew there were plans in motion. I knew she had apologized. It wasn’t enough.
I told Luau that I trusted him completely but that this had nothing to do with him. I told him that I needed to have the conversation myself. That I needed to DO something. That I needed not to berate her, but for her to hear the anguish, the terror, the pain that their egregious negligence had caused. That I needed to hear the plans to rectify it for myself. He understood.
I said what I needed to say. She apologized again. And again. She told me that she’s a mom and that she really, truly got it. I believed her.
We talked about what she is doing to fix it. To ensure that this can NEVER, EVER happen again. The individual meetings with each and every staff member. The new policy plan. Her personal oversight of the transitions.
And then I added my thoughts. I told her that kids should never be allowed to accompany therapists into the waiting room to look for the adult picking them up. Things happen, I said. Parents want to speak to the therapist, another child has trouble, attention is drawn away. It only takes a second. I told her that the children should remain behind the closed door that separates the waiting room from the therapy spaces until the adult is located. That there MUST be a contingency plan for where they wait (a place BEHIND the door with a staff member) when an adult is late. I told her that I want a big STOP sign on the door to the outside and the words (and associated PECS) reading DO YOU HAVE YOUR GROWN-UP? Underneath it. Ultimately, I said, when she works out the final policy and associated plans I want her to send them to me.
I felt better. And worse.
We’re doing everything we can think of to teach Brooke how to be safe and to create safe environments for her. But a moment like this is a terrifying reminder that we can’t think of everything. That no matter how hard I try, I can’t possibly cast a net wide enough to cover all the bases – each of which must be individually and discretely taught. There is no generalizing. There is no inferring. There is simply One. Situation. At. A. Time. So we do whatever we can to think of the contingencies – to keep our babies safe in a world whose rules may as well be written in Swahili. And in the meantime, we wrap our arms around them. And pray.