Tuesday, October 13, 2009

News: Stunning Examples of Autistic Child Abuse

In the news today is an article with some of the worst examples of autistic child abuse I've ever heard of.

Special Education Teachers in Trouble for Autistic Student Abuse

Now I know that there are worse things being done to autistic children (see Observations and Findings of Out-of-State Program Visitation Judge Rotenberg Educational Center) but the difference is that it's fairly obvious what the programme at the JRE is. The abuse reported today was being committed by trusted special education teachers.

If you put your child into a center like JRE, you will (hopefully) have checked the place out and have made a conscious decision to treat the child in that manner. I'm not saying that it's a good thing - far from it - but parents who institutionalise their children should have very good reasons and more importantly, they should feel responsible for supervising their child's treatment.

In the case of the mainstreamed child however, it's more a case of "fire and forget". Parents help their children get ready for school, pack their bags and send them off. For the most part, those children are then out-of-sight, out-of-mind until school finishes.

We trust that the school system will look after our child. Sure, we are responsible for checking the school out but other than that, we can't be responsible for the mood swings or psychopathic tendencies of its staff. Ultimately, we have to trust the school and this kind of trust is akin to the trust placed in doctors, priests and lawyers(?).

From a parent's point of view, it raises some concerns about who you can trust. I'd love to know if the parents had any suspicion that things were going wrong - I suspect not - at least, not in the first two cases. In the third case, the teacher was a repeat offender.

What can we, as parents do?
This is the big question. Obviously we can't go around placing suspicion on every teacher. We have to learn to let go and trust our educators - otherwise we become helicopter parents. Being a helicopter parent isn't just about social perception - it's also harmful to the child, if not academically, then at least socially.

How much contact with the school is too much? How much is too little?

I don't think that there's any sensible benchmark, it would vary from child to child, teacher to teacher and incident to incident. It makes sense to suggest that more time needs to be spent in communication with the teacher in the first term than in the later ones but beyond that, we need to be guided by our (generally uncommunicative) children's feelings and actions.

The Introductory Letter
Here's a method of contact that I'm quite keen on, although I've not been as diligent in the past with my own children as I should have been...

At the start of the school year, write an introductory letter to your child's teacher telling them all about your child, his strengths and weaknesses, both social and educational. Make sure that you include contact information for yourself and your partner and offer your assistance.

Tell the teacher that given reasonable notice, you're happy to be included on excursions with your child.

Even better, consider putting the letter, or a copy of it, permanently in your child's homework diary. Of course, if your child is a teenager, you might have to ask your child for permission.


Marita said...

It is horrifying to read things like that. :(

Did you see this guide that has just been released by Association for Children with a Disability -

My 6yo with Aspergers has a sleepover with Joey Scouts this Saturday night. One of my friends was horrified that I'm planning to go along with her, saying that defeats the purpose of a sleep over.

Part of me feels like I should be able to trust our Scout leader to take care of my little girl over night. But the sensible part of me knows that she has never been to a sleep over like this before, she still wets the bed and has terrible screaming nightmares at times. I trust our Scout leader to do the best job possible but I'm not 100% sure that my daughter is ready for the sleepover yet. We've only been doing Joey Scouts for 6 months now and she still wants me to stay the whole hour, how will a sleepover be different.

I toss all these thoughts around in my head and decided to go with her rather than let her miss out on the experience.

aspieteach said...

I wrote a post last week about how horrifyingly common abuse is in schools: http://www.aspieteacher.com/2009/10/the-things-i-saw-as-a-teacher-part-1/

Making an effort to let the teacher know that you're very open to helping out with your child is a good idea. Sometimes these adults feel driven to the breaking point when they've been overloaded with too much going on, too many students, and not enough help.

I've also known teachers who felt obligated to hurt kids to prove a point. You'll recognize these teachers from the second you walk into their classroom; they have an extremely authoritarian attitude. Even if they never hit a child they will belittle him/her.

Gavin Bollard said...


As a cub scout leader, (my wife does Joeys), I think that the rules about Joeys are very clear.

They're not permitted to have sleepovers without parents.

Cubs can, Joeys can't. You might want to check with your district commissioner.

Gavin Bollard said...

Joey Scout Sleepovers
I looked it up.


This might be only applicable for NSW but it states that there must be a "Parent/guardian for each Joey Scout"

Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

Those cases (and teachers) are terrible. I find it helpful (I hope!) to keep in close contact with my son's teachers, communicating 2-3 times a week. It seems to help.

Kris Olson said...

My son with AS started junior high this year. We sent a letter to all his teachers and they were all very responsive; however a few weeks into school it became obvious from repeated emails that one of his teachers just couldn't handle the constant interruption of her "pin-drop quiet" class. She also kept saying he was "choosing" not to participate or pay attentio so I took him out of English, Math and Science, and he is now attending school for only elective classes, and we are homeschooling for the core classes. It's working quite well.

Anonymous said...

Here's a sleep away camp that provides a nurturing and empowering environment for kids with special needs.