When my son was 5, he was attacked by a dog while playing in our backyard. We rushed him to the emergency room. They said it would be an hour wait before they could see him, so we rushed him to another hospital. They saw us right away, but we had no idea what a storm we were in for. Although we were trapped in that room for 6 hours (which is difficult for a traumatized child with autism) the only treatment my son received was a dab of wet gauze on his wounds. I was so immersed in helping my son cope, it didn’t raise my suspicions when the doctor said, “I don’t think these are dog bites!”
“What do you think they are then?” I wasn’t being smart, I was seriously asking. But she never answered. I was confused by her questioning. My son had the dogs white fur on him. He kept repeating over and over through tears that the dog bit him. I didn’t know where she was going with her comments. When they finally let us go, we were just happy to finally get home.
The next day as I was heading out to take my son to the pediatrician for a follow up visit, there was knock at our door. My husband and I looked at each other; we weren’t expecting anyone. Social services had arrived to investigate. Investigate what? The next couple of days would be humiliating and challenging. They were investigating child abuse. How did we get here?
Little did I know that parents are more likely to be accused of child abuse with a child who has autism because children on the spectrum:
- may not be verbal
- even if they are verbal, they are less likely to pay attention or talk to a stranger
- they may have self-injurious behavior (hitting self, peeling skin back, etc), which result in bruising, sores, etc
- they tend to get over-stimulated or
- what you have to do or how you have to talk to redirect them may look/sound abusive
As for my family, how did we fair in the end? Although the ER called human services on us, in the end they said they had no record of ever seeing my son. Of course, we had our paperwork ready and a strong support network.
Here's a similar article for further reading:
Improving Emergency Care for Children with Autism