What to do when you’re told that, according to your child’s pupil-specific risk assessment, he is a ‘level 3 harm risk’? You cry. Or at least I did. It’s not easy being told that your pint-sized, scrawny, son is a risk to himself and others. A risk of physical harm and harm to his/their education.
And then you take a deep breath. Because, actually they’re not wrong. 99% of the time he’s bonnie and compliant and an utter sweetheart. But we’re always braced for that 1%, predicting when it might be triggered and poised to quell the fire that burns when his world tips on its axis. That’s exactly what that Level 3 represents: where a risk of harm is more likely to happen again. And you feel guilt for all of those caught in his path: the teachers whose days are made harder because they too have to be ready to pounce; the other children who are too young to understand but who’ve learnt it’s best to give him a wide berth. Your heart breaks for the way it must feel to be so caught up that you can’t cope, for the ways someone so little has had to learn to manage his response to a bewildering world and all the challenges ahead.
And then you take reassurance where you can get it. “At least he’s not a Level 4 risk: ‘The risk of harm is persistent and constant.’ ” What must that be to live with? How drainingly exhausting? How lucky we really are to have that 99%! And the relief that his Level 3 is only applicable to the probability of harm, not the seriousness of it.
I won’t deny that it stings to be told your child is a risk. ‘Normal’ children don’t come with personal risk assessments. You don’t find yourself holding your breath around the neurotypical kids. And although, more often than not, when your kid’s being quirky you can hold your head up high and show him that it’s ok to be exactly everything that he is, when it’s having a demonstrable, quantifiable negative effect then it’s less easy to accept as ok.
But with the numbers comes a determination to make things better. To make changes to his environment so that he’s not anxious or overwhelmed, so that he has a chance for a break from the world. To notice the early warning signs so that he doesn’t reach the point of lashing out. To have strategies, both for us as his carers and for him to learn himself, for when it does go wrong. His new school in September has plans to make learning an outdoors affair to better suit the kids with special needs. They’re creating a sensory room out of a cupboard for chill out time. His nursery have had training in how to cope as have we as parents. Information is being cascaded from those who’ve built a bond with him and learnt his quirks to those who are going to be new to him.
Yes, it’s harsh. And, yes, it seems incompatible with the bright, happy version of him. But if it helps for those times when things flip at a loud noise or an invasion of space or a change to expectation, then at least no one can say they weren’t forewarned.
And it saves us from having to dress him in a hazard t-shirt, I suppose.