what we did



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.

18 thoughts on “what we did

  1. Jess. You continue to pave the way for the rest of us. The steps the school and therapist put into place may hopefully be shared with other schools. And every parent reading this will likely make sure their school is prepared. So sorry you had a tough week but thank you for sharing it with us. We are better prepared for it.

  2. The description of these plans makes me feel slightly better. And I’m sending them to our private therapists, too. The scenario you describe about distracted kid’s while parents talk to the therapist? All the time…and not just with my son. And they’re moving to a new office which is closer to the highway. *gulp*

  3. I have had this happen as well and did not find them as quickly. Makes me cry to this day sitting here remembering it. It’s stressful to say the least.

  4. So scary, yet I’m so glad that Brooke was okay. As a mom of what I call a “silent” wanderer – not a bolter, he just walk off when unsupervised – I get how scary this is. My boy wandered off at the park as I was trying to get over to the bottom of a slide after helping him up the ladder, which took me a few seconds after getting caught in a crowd of kids. When I wasn’t at the bottom of the slide, he simply walked away. He was only missing for a few minutes, but I don’t think my heart stopped racing for days.

    I think that your idea of the kids waiting in the therapy spaces is a good one. Especially when you have a group of children (not like in a 1:1 therapy session) it is easy for even the most vigilant adult to lose track of one. This will be safer for the kids and be easier for the adults to supervise the children prior to pick-up.

    I’m sorry that it took something happening first to put a good dismissal plan in place, but it sounds like you’ve got some good plans in place.

  5. Been wrapping my arms around my kids since you wrote all this.
    This plan should be standard operating procedure at any drop off place where our kids are. Thank you for being the parent that you are…not only pushing to have this in place but sharing it with us so we can all keep our babies a little safer.

  6. Our G is also a wanderer and it scares the daylights out of me. One of our team also suggested a Medical ID bracelet just in case. We were able to get one engraved that’s rubber and has his favorite characters on it, so he wears it without issue. It goes on his ankle and only comes off for bedtime. God forbid he wander and not be able to express himself to a stranger, all of his info is easily accessible. Not sure if you have one for Brooke, but I thought I’d share.

  7. Social skills/speech places around me require that parents stay for the entire session, I imagine in part for this reason.

  8. Your post yesterday sent me into palpitations (it doesn’t help that I was already freaked out, as the 6 year-old murdered by her nanny is someone we actually know from the neighborhood) and I love the way you have followed up. Still, awareness of the extra vulnerability of our children never ceases to live in the back of my brain, chattering away, filling me with worry. Big hugs to and so glad the “what if” was not.

  9. It seems no matter how vigilant we are, too many of us have had similar experiences. my son was actually put on the wrong school bus by a substitute teacher! The steps you are taking in your community are so important, thank you for sharing your experience, and for always being such a strong, positive role model. Do you think you could maybe post a social story on this when your team has them in place?

    • Absolutely. I’ll be happy to share whatever materials we get. As for strong, not exactly feeling it right now, but thank you. 😉

  10. One of my sons is a bolter, an escape artist who loves to be chased and will run faster than the wind. He terrifies me when he tries to run. His twin? He’s a silent wanderer. He will see something he wants to look at and walk right off.

    I can’t describe to you how terrified I’ve been when one of them escapes my grasp for just a moment. My silent wanderer got on the wrong bus the second day of Pre-K. I still haven’t stopped shaking and he’s halfway through Kindergarten now. The terror never subsides. It just makes you more careful and very thorough with everyone who has contact with your children.

    I pray that nothing like this ever happens again for you or I or any parent ever.

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