You are here

17 year old autistic SS broke my dog's ribs

Kmom's picture

I have a SS17 who has autism and intellectual disabilities. I've been with DH for about 5 years now. My SS functions okay in some areas - he goes to high school, showers/dresses himself, cooks a little/feeds himself - but in some areas he is really delayed and struggles - he reads and writes at about a 2nd grade level, and emotionally he's probably more like an 8-10 year old. My SS and I had a bit of a rocky start, but the last few years have been fine. He's gets on my nerves a lot - he's clingy and overly affectionate, and he can be a bit messy, but he's sweet and he just wants to be loved. We have a dog who is 14 years old and a little less than 20 pounds - I've had her since she was a puppy, and I absolutely love her to death. We all take turns walking the dog, but often my SS insists on doing it. He loves the dog and always wants to snuggle with her, and I let him even though she clearly prefers being around me. 

So here's the issue - about a week before Christmas he took the dog outside to go potty right before bedtime. I didn't even know he had gone outside with her - I was in bed with a migraine. When he was done, he brought the dog inside, came into our bedroom, and put the dog on the bed next to me where she sleeps. A few minutes later, my dog lets out a loud yelp and runs into my arms, and she's shaking really bad. She had gotten her anal glands expressed earlier that day and sometimes that irritates her, but I've never seen her in this much discomfort before. So after trying to take her back outside (thinking maybe she just needed to potty), I tried giving her a pain pill that her vet prescribed and she refused it. We ended up taking her to the emergency vet because we knew something was very wrong with her but had no idea what it was. They found nothing, changed her pain meds to one that was more for arthritic pain, and sent us home. I made an appointment with our regular vet for four days later. Our vet does chiropractic too and I was hopeful she just needed a little adjustment in her back or something. Well, the next few days (of course it was over the weekend so no access to the vet without going back to the emergency vet) were pretty miserable. My dog was clearly in a lot of pain and I was literally carrying her outside to potty, and she would just shake uncontrollably. When we asked my SS if anything had happened, he acted a little weird but said nothing. I felt like maybe he wasn't telling us something, but I wasn't sure. I asked him several more times over the next few days if there was anything he wasn't telling us - something just felt so off about the situation - and I made sure to emphasize that we really needed to know what had happened to her because it would help the vet make her feel better, but he just kept insisting he had no idea what was wrong with her.

So four days went by and our vet ended up canceling the appointment because she was sick, so we took her to a different emergency vet. Luckily that vet decided to do a CT scan of her chest - they said they were looking for signs of cancer. Instead, they found she had four broken ribs! I felt so sick to my stomach. I asked the vet if a dog falling off the bed or something similar could cause this, and she said no, this would be more like what we'd see if she'd been in a car accident - so falling even a few feet onto the floor wouldn't be enough force. So at that point I knew my SS wasn't telling the whole truth. I confronted him and told him he had to tell me what had really happened. It took probably 20 minutes of me basically hounding him until he finally admitted that she fell down when he took her outside. Still didn't add up. So I asked if he hurt her on purpose. That's when he broke down balling and told me he had gotten frustrated with her because she wouldn't go potty for him and he threw her down on the ground. I have never been so angry and hurt and just absolutely disgusted with anyone in my entire life. I told my DH what had happened and said there's no way I can be around him (we were leaving that day to go out of state to visit family for Christmas and SS was set to come with us). He agreed with me that he shouldn't come on the trip with us. I called his BM and told her what he had admitted and let her know I'd be dropping her son off at her house. We have security cameras that face the yard where he had her. After he told me that this had happend outside (the whole time we had been assuming that if anything had happened, it happened in his bedroom - it never occurred to us to watch the security camera footage until he finally came clean), my DH and I watched the footage and saw him pick her up, and then it looked like he basically just tossed her onto the ground really hard, like a body slam from a couple feet off the ground.

I know he has autism. I know he is basically more like an 8 year old than a 17 year old. And I also know that while he meant to take his anger out on her, I truly don't think he intended to physcially injur her like that. And he's expressed remorse - he definitely feels terrible. But I can't get over this. I was filled with absolute rage for weeks after this happened. Every time I think I'm starting to forgive him, I remember that he actively lied to me for 5 days while watching me worry over her and carrying her outside to go potty. He heard us talking about how worried we were. I layed on my bedroom floor and cried the morning before we took her to the second emergency vet because I was worried we might have to put her down because something must be terribly wrong and I wasn't sure they'd be able to fix it. A couple days ago, my SS made a much smaller mistake, but he tried to hide what he had done, and I got so angry with him I yelled at him and even slammed my first down on his dresser (he was standing all the way across the room from me, so I wasn't trying to threaten him, but I know it startled him). It just reminded me of him lying to me about hurting the dog, and I lost it! My DH has been absolutely supportive. SS is in therapy, has been for years, and we had a session with his therapist setting new rules around no longer spending time with the dog - he agreed and has followed these rules so far.

He's actually a good kid, but sometimes I absolutely want nothing to do with him. It's always been hard to enjoy having him around all the time because he has annoying habits and is constantly accidentally breaking things, but now I just have moments where I despise him. I also have moments when I feel more neutral. But how do I get past this? It was such an awful thing to do and I feel so betrayed that he lied when he knew she was in danger. I just keep going back to he cared more about protecting himself than the dog that he supposedly loves, and he had no regard for my feelings. All he cared about was staying out of trouble. I don't know where to go from here. I think part of the problem is because he has autism he really can't even give me a satisfying apology. He can't fully understand what he did or how much he hurt me. 

la_dulce_vida's picture

You say he's at the maturity level of an 8 year old, right? Well, he's acting like an 8 year old would - someone willing to tell a lie to cover impulsive behavior and to avoid punishment. I'm not excusing what your step son did; he needs help to manage his impulsive behavior. I don't think he really thought the dog would get hurt, so his action is not as diabolical as someone who knows full well that that action could severely hurt a small dog.

My suggestion to you is to get some therapy for yourself to help with the frustrations of having a special needs person in your home. Don't allow SS to be unsupervised with your dog.

But the one thing you need to NOT do is flip out on your SS because you haven't dealt with your feelings about what happened. What you experienced was very traumatic and it broke your trust in SS. It's normal to feel the way you feel, but it's NOT okay, nor is it effective to lose your cool with someone who looks 17 but functions at the level of an 8 year old. Your outbursts of anger and frustration need to be managed.

I say this as the mother of an adult child on the spectrum. It's frustrating as hell with these people, sometimes. And I have the benefit of a biological bond with my son.

I hope your doggie feels better soon.

CajunMom's picture

I can't say much on the young man, considering his disabilities. With him functioning at about 8 years old along with him physically hurting the dog, he should not ever allowed to be alone with the dog again. If he has the understanding, you can explain to him that he broke your trust. If not, just set the rule....only you or your DH can care for the dog due to age, injury, etc.

I'm sorry this happened. As an avid dog lover (I even volunteer in dog rescue and transport), it breaks my heart. I sure hope you little pup feels better soon. Hugs.

Rumplestiltskin's picture

I get that he has autism, but even an 8-year-old knows that abusing animals is wrong. If he is allowed to hurt people (or animals) without consequences, he will keep doing so. Going to therapy is good, but i hope the therapist is working with your husband on develpmentally appropriate consequences for behaviors that hurt others. If he would hurt a dog out of frustration, he could hurt a child or a weaker adult also, and then you would have a serious problem on your hands. I agree with the above poster that yelling at him isn't the answer. It might give him the impression that outbursts are ok, and at his age and likely level of strength, that is something that needs to be avoided.

I had a bad experience when I was younger, and I believe the cause was a failure of parents to either properly raise or properly supervise their son who had autism. I was a teen and went jogging in a neighborhood park. A guy a little older than me who had autism and mild developmental delay asked me if i would some talk to him because he was sad. I stopped for a minute and in that time he began groping me and trying to drag me into the woods. I fought him off and ran away, and when i got home i called a neighbor who knew him. I didn't want him to get in trouble because i knew he was mentally challenged. Not severely, he was able to drive a car, but obviously "off." The neighbor told me he had done this before and assaulted a girl on a church outing in a similar way. He didn't get in trouble because of his disability. After hearing that, i told my parents and we called the police. They took the report but didn't charge him. Hopefully, though, having the cops contact his parents at least made them stop letting him into parks alone. The point of that story is that he still has to be held to some standard of behavior, and if he just can't control himself, he needs to be kept away from animals or people weaker than himself. 

CajunMom's picture

I raised two kids. Neither would have "slammed" a dog to the ground forcefully enough to break ribs at that age. I want to have some empathy with the autism diagnosis but this is just wrong for that age; he should know better. I'm going to go with "lack of impulse control" issues and still stand on my advice...he should never be alone with the dog again. Or small children. 

SteppedOut's picture

I'm sorry OP, this is something I would not be able to deal with.

And, just in case, you don't have to be either... 

ESMOD's picture

This is a wakeup call for them.. he may be X age... but mentally "8".. but in reality.. his impulse control could be much less developed due to his disability...I don't think it's necessarily linear or easy to categorize him as a certain age.. he is going to have varying abilities in different executive functions mentally.. clearly his ability to regulate his frustration impulses is not as developed as some of his other abilities.

So... this is an area he needs work on.. and means he doesn't need to be in situations where another person or animal is at the mercy of his poor decision processes.

So.. for now.. he needs to understand that his unsupervised walkies with the puppy are over.. while he may not have meant to hurt the dog.. his inability to regulate his emotions and actions meant the dog was hurt and suffered longer than necessary because he wasn't honest about what happened.  That you and his father are dissapointed.. and the consequence is he is not going to be allowed to be trusted with the animal.  

He can go WITH you or yoru DH when the dog is walked.. he can play with pup in the house when you are in the same room.. but no free time with the pup without one of you present.

Noway2b1's picture


Marianne's picture

I am so sorry that your sweet dog has four broken ribs. I read your post a few times. The lasting damage is that it soulds like you are having to keep hypervigilante now that this has happened. I would too. Picking up a dog and body slamming her so hard that ribs broke is not okay--for anyone no matter the situation. I know that time has passed, but if it were me, I might have contacted the ASPCA. It does not sound like you are truly going to feel safe. The family counseling should continue until you can be assured that this or any additional violence will not happen again. I'm not sure that SS is empathising with the pain your dog has suffered and the fear. The lying sounds like he knew he did a bad thing and didn't want to get caught. This is such a tough situation. I can't seem to feel sympathy for SS and his mental limitations because of the senseless violent act. I have been in a similar situation and was in such despair for quite a long time. Preventive measures for pet safety were employed after my cat died, but it changed how I felt about my home, DH, and SD permanently, but I am super sensitive and could have dealt with my emotions better. It helps that your DH is understanding. how awful for you.

justmakingthebest's picture

This is so hard because with Autism comes the lack of emotional connection, lack of control, lack of understanding consequences, lack of empathy (for some).

My SS23 is Autistic. I could see something like this happening out of a moment in frustration. He has never but I have seen him shake he gets so mad, ball up his fists, red faced- over something stupid. Could it be over getting mad at a dog one day- maybe?

I am not excusing the behavior and I don't think he should be allowed to be alone with a pet again. However- with his emotional and cognitive level along with the traits that Autism has, this is really something that will need to be moved past eventually.  

I hope your pup heals quickly and that this betrayal of trust is healed in your heart as well. I can only imagine how upset I would be. I have a 4lb pup that is my baby through and through. Logically sitting here I can say that this is something to talk to the counselor, should have him in some kind of grounding, not being allowed around the dog alone, etc. But if I experienced what you did, it would take me a long time to even look at SS again. Your feelings are 100% valid. 

Rumplestiltskin's picture

I can't imagine how hard it must be to raise a child with autism. It's hard enough with neurotypical kids. 

justmakingthebest's picture

Something I have come to terms with when I get frustrated is knowing and understanding his lack of compassion or empathy.

If is doesn't DIRECTLY affect him in THAT MOMENT, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that it will affect him later. It doesn't matter that his actions affect others. It doesn't matter to him. So, I have to make it about him in that moment so that he understands.

Lying is HUGE with autism. If they think they can lie their way out and end a conversation they will. They don't want interaction or to be fussed at so they lie. They don't want to have to stop what they want to do something they don't want to, so they lie. They would rather lie than face any "hardship".

I was laughing Sunday morning- SS came down stairs in the clothes he had worn to my nephews Baptism the night before. Jacket, shoes and all. I asked him if he slept in his clothes again (something he isn't allowed to do). He said no. I asked him again and pointed at what he was wearing down to the shoes. He said no again. I asked him a 3rd time and said that if he lies to me again we are going to start spending evenings together and his dad is going to have to monitor him changing into jammies like he is 3. He FINALLY sighed and said yes, I slept in my clothes. -- How dumb to lie over and over? But he will, for anything!

la_dulce_vida's picture

You and I both agree that her feelings are valid, but I'm glad to see that you get it. As we're both parenting children on the spectrum, we get it when other people don't.

The key factor with Autism is their inability to see things from another person's or animal's POV. They are not naturally able to think "how might this feel for the other person or animal." Case in point, my youngest used to pinch his siblings or pull their hair. He had no idea how it felt to them, so I told his siblings to show him - do it back to him. Once he realized that pinches and hair pulling hurt, he stopped. Some may call it drastic, but until these kids have personal experience or rules to reference, they don't really automatically know that they can hurt someone physically or emotionally.

I support the OP fully on protecting her dog from SS, but I don't support villainizing him or that it's okay to have outbursts at the SS because of how upset she is.

Impulse control is something both SS and OP need to work on.

advice.only2's picture

I’m not asking this to be controversial but more to understand the thought process.  You told your children to pinch and pull their brothers hair so he can “learn”.  Yet you are telling the OP it’s not okay for her to have outbursts at SS.  I guess I don’t understand the reasoning. 

la_dulce_vida's picture

The two approaches are wholly different.

My approach gave my son an experience so that he understood what pulling hair or pinching feels like. He was very young so did not know that pulling hair and pinching actually HURT. He only saw that he got a response from his siblings. He was maybe 3-4 and non verbal at the time. Naturally, now that he's older, he can acquire an understanding without the need for a real-life example. But he's also functioning at a higher maturity (14-ish) than the OP's step son. My son is 26.

The example of my son was merely to demonstrate that empathy has to be taught as it's not naturally present in many kids on the spectrum.

If we're talking apples to apples, the OP would have to break 4 of her stepson's ribs to teach him how it feels to be dropped like the dog was dropped. That's insane.

Losing her temper at her stepson does not teach him anything except that she is upset and will blow her stack on unrelated matters. There is not a 1:1 correlation between what she's really uspet about (her dog being injured) and the issue she blew up about.

advice.only2's picture

I am so sorry for your dog and for what you are going through.  It sounds like your DH is pretty on board with you when it comes to how SS is being disciplined.  I think how you are feeling is completely normal and understandable.  Maybe a therapist or local support group can help you navigate how to move forward.