COMMUNICATION DISORDER AND NIGHTMARES
Jess still has nightmares. She has had them most of her life. But very early on, they were different. When Jess was a toddler, the doctor explained to us that Jess was having ‘night terrors’ which are different from nightmares. When she was having night terrors, she would wake during the night screaming and crying, pacing in her room, non-responsive to our efforts to comfort and console. We would just stay with her until it passed enough to get her back to bed. She quickly outgrew the night terrors.
Her nightmares started later; AFTER she stopped attending the school for the blind.
Once they started, they continued. For YEARS! At first, they were frequent and intense. When Jess would have one of those nightmares, it was always very specific to that teacher at the residential school. We often had difficulty consoling her and convincing her it was just a dream and that she did not ever have to go back. Even when we would be traveling, and passing through that area, she would get very stressed and worried that we would go there. After several years passed and she was having much better experiences with school, the nightmares were less frequent. However, ten years after being there, when she is having a bad day, she will still occasionally bring up that teacher’s name.
Sometimes, after these nightmares, Jess was able to tell us a few details about her experiences in that classroom with that teacher. The timing of all of these events she explained to us was when she was in the class with the same teacher that told her she would never be a nurse or a caregiver. The same teacher that told her she could not have her dolls anymore.
I vividly remember the day Jess was able to tell me about being punished at mealtime. I felt real pain inside and true nausea the day Jess told me that sometimes at lunch she was punished by being made to sit at the table while the rest of her group ate, but she was not allowed to eat. I have no idea what that punishment would have been for, but that was so cruel. How many times had that happened? We’ll never know. To this day, Jessica is quite focused on making sure she does not miss a meal.
I explained in Wandering Jess the strong connection between autism and wandering as well as the personal experiences we had with Jess wandering. Considering that risk, and our fear of literally losing Jess, imagine how we felt when Jess eventually told us that for punishment her teacher would make her stand in the hall by herself. Also, Jess told us that at times, when the class would take a break outside in the courtyard, she was made to stay in the classroom by herself for being bad. Leaving Jess by herself for ‘punishment’ was dangerous and cruel. I wonder how many times that happened? How many other cruel punishments had Jessica endured?
Oh, how we wish we had known what was happening while she was still there. It was so incredibly sad to us that we did not find out these details until she was no longer attending that school.
Very lucky for Jess, there was a wonderful person there on campus that was seeing the cruelty for what it was. Someone that wanted to rescue her from that classroom. But how could she do it without exposing Jessica’s nightmare, without getting in trouble and putting her own job at risk?
* DISCLAIMER: This is how Jessica and our family perceived the experience and events that occurred as specifically related to Jess being at this school. It does not necessarily represent the experience of other students at that school as a whole.