We’re not new to mystery injuries on our autistic son; his communication and comprehension is limited, so we often end up in unhelpful guessing-games trying to figure out their cause. One of the more unforgettable injuries was last year when he kept getting sore eyes. Finally a carer noticed our son running off to the bathroom, to look in the mirror as he poked himself in the eye. We told our son not to do that. No more sore eyes.
Today after school I noticed him favouring his elbow, and saw something he didn’t have when he left this morning: A weird shaped and sizable bruise on the inside of his elbow. This began the question and semi-answer session, that went something like this:
Me: “Did that happen at school?”
Me: “Did someone hurt you?” *silence*
Me: “Did that happen on the slide?” (fishing for answers there..)
Him: “Yes” (I’m suspicious so I test my theory..)
Me: “Did Jason do that?” (I’d chosen a random name)
Him: “Yes” (OK, let’s try again)
Me: “Did that happen in the classroom or playground?”
Me: “How did it get hurt?”
Him: “Oh no…!”
I continued the questioning for a while and kept getting confusing and at times contradictory answers (including him saying the taxi man did it, it happened in the classroom, the clock did it). So I just settled for the fact that it had happened between leaving home and getting back, and that he needed some cream on it (he likes cream).
My line of questioning, and his answers, reminds me of my studies in a course on Evidence as part of my law degree: Interviewing children (autism or no autism), can create some very damaging and inaccurate “evidence”, particularly for issues children don’t fully comprehend and when they are just trying to agree with the authority figure who is clearly looking for a “yes” in answer to certain questions. You’re not meant to ask leading questions of witnesses, but it’s so hard to get conversation out of my autistic son, that I fell into that trap. And then the “answers” I had gotten early on the questioning tainted the rest of the discussion as he started to incorporate what he’d already said into contradictory later statements.
One of the issues that always worried me about my son attending a mainstream school was potential for bullying, and the fact that if he was bullied (which was more likely than not), that we wouldn’t be able to get information from my son about how he was being bullied or by whom. We can’t even figure out if injuries were inflicted by a person or a thing, and whether it was intentional or accidental.
Mystery injuries happen even under the watchful eyes of his specially trained teachers though, as my son might not have alerted them to the injury or the teachers might have deemed it unworthy of comment in the notebook they write to me in everyday. I trust the teachers, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt – that no one hurt my son, that it was in all likelihood a self-inflicted accident – and leave it at that.
[Update: Days later I asked my son again, and he clearly said the taxi driver did it. I asked him again later that same day to confirm; same response. Best I can tell the taxi driver unintentionally hurt my son when he was lifting him in or out of the taxi van. It hasn’t happened again, but I keep an eye out.]