There are not going to be any pictures with this story. It is soon going to be written in a paper. I’m risking not being able to be represented by a lawyer by blogging about this, going to the papers (which I tried to do in the beginning), and by coming out. There was an injustice done on behalf of my son, and I want to warn other parents that this could happen. Especially, parents with children on the autism spectrum (particularly those with non-verbal or barely verbal children).
This is a note from my son’s school in 2011. It’s a nice note, if you didn’t read the entire notebook, and notice that every single note from September to November was essentially the same. And even then it looks harmless. The teacher has very pretty handwriting and the occasional smiley face would mislead you. The story starts in May of 2011.
My husband was at some school for the Air Force, I call it “Major’s School,” because even though I am a veteran, I hardly cared for the “continuing education” or aka “officer indoctrination.” My daughter attended a very nice Preschool, I don’t remember the name off the top of my head, and my son went to Beavercreek Main. We were amazed at Beavercreek Main (in Beavercreek, OH), because in VA, we were told to send my child to a private special needs school. We were happy with the self contained special needs school, until we went to our first meeting to get my son enrolled at school, and we were asked, “What do you want on his IEP?” I was spitballing, and answered, “I want him mainstreamed with an aide.” Figuring that that was some kind of pipe dream. I was waiting for Ed McMahon to tell me to “Reach For The Stars…” Though he was long dead in 2011.
He had the best teacher, Mrs. Murphy (later teachers we found would be equally great). The thing about my son, is he has a way with people. I know perhaps I am biased, but my son gets people to like him. He touches people in a way I just cannot explain or imagine. Other people can vouch for it. Mrs. Murphy gave us everything we asked for. He had a dedicated aide, who absolutely adored him. He was in mainstreamed, he got asked to birthday parties. He started to read spontaneously. He was learning to write. Everything was going great. That fateful May, we found out that our orders to Barksdale AFB were denied, and we were going to Eglin AFB, FL. I thought I would love FL, and I did love FL. Even though Florida was where my dad died, Florida was where this story took place, and later Florida was where I was diagnosed with cancer.
We were excited to move to a tropical tourist trap, looking forward to our many visits with the Mouse, and excited about year round summer. We bought a beautiful home in a town called Niceville. You can’t lose with a town named Niceville! It was like a dream. We had visited the school districts main office, because when you have a child with autism, that’s what you do. We handed them a newly minted IEP (Individual Education Plan), and we were told that our children would be attending James E. Plew Elementary. How can you disagree with a beautiful school with gardens, lizards, and butterflies.
A week before the packers came, we got a phone call. The school district had changed their collective minds, and had told us, that the school was not staffed for our son, and he would be instead attending Lewis Elementary School. Less than thrilled with that assessment, we said, “OK,” because we were promised that his IEP would be followed. We got Niceville, and found out a few short months my husband would be returning to Barksdale for upgrade training. He would be leaving us for about three months. Great, I can handle being a single mother for that long.
I went and registered my kids at their respective schools. My daughter’s school, Plew, was great, I met her teachers. They showed me the kindergarten classrooms. She was tested, and all was great. I went to my son’s school, and alarm bells rang. I was not allowed to meet his teacher, because she was busy moving into her classroom. I was not allowed to meet my son’s para, because she/he was not assigned yet. I was not allowed to even see the classroom. The principle was less than impressive, and I told my husband before he left for his upgrade class that I had deep reservations about the school. NOTE NUMBER ONE: If you have deep reservations upon first going to a school, do NOT enroll your kid there.
I ignored my instinct, and we enrolled my son there. A few weeks into August, I FINALLY got a call back from the teacher, and they FINALLY set up a meeting with her. We met in an office, and again I was not allowed to see the room, as it was not completed yet (mind you school was in a week). I was again not going to meet his mainstream teachers, because they were not available (again alarm bells). We sat down and talked about my son. I told them that I knew that my child was capable of being a little brat, but he was a good kid. He was off that day, because he was on a drug called risperadon, which affected his ability to regulate his body temperature. I didn’t know this, but they were already formulating a case for my son to be placed in a self-contained classroom.
The evening before the first day of school, we visited the school, and were surprised to see that our son was going to be in a self-contained classroom with eight other children with significant disabilities. It was a small room, it was a converted band room. I was informed that my son was going to be sent into the first grade room ALONE, without a para-professional, and then pulled out if he acted up. Which was NOT what was in the IEP they promised they would follow. I was then informed that they were going to write a new IEP without testing my son, “To make the placement LEGAL…” NOTE: If they need to write a new IEP without testing that “to make the placement legal,” means that the school district has no f*$*ing intention of following the LEGAL IEP. And again we should have instantly pulled him from the school district.
But we didn’t, instead both my husband and I decided that perhaps the school was right, and he needed a trial period in a self contained classroom to “get used” to the school. My husband left the first day of school, and when my son got home. The first of many negative notes. About a week later I received another note. My son had solicited a sexual act from another student. Apparently, he looked her in the eye, pulled out his penis, and told her to “lick it.” It was odd, because my son would not look ME in the eye. He did have the tendency to pull out his penis, but it was rare. And he would not engage in conversation with another human being, much less another child. It was really concerning, because there is a history of sexual abuse in our family (long story, and I’m not going to write about it).
Anyway, I was terrified. We were to meet with the school at the end of the week. My husband came home early to attend the meeting. We thought that we were going to be involved in a long investigation, because we both knew that a child, who is sexually aggressive is a sign of sexual abuse. We went to the meeting. I was surprised that there were just two teachers, no principle, no resource officer, and no other parents. The teachers had said that they didn’t want it to become a big investigation and they didn’t want to involve the other parents. They just wanted my son to wear pants every day at school. I was suspicious, but my husband was amiable to their request. I kept thinking to myself, if my son actually “did” what they said he did, then shouldn’t there be an investigation? Is there something happening, or did something happen to my son? Aren’t they mandated reporters? Why wouldn’t they report my son’s actions to the police, because technically, my son committed a crime? Why was this all fixed by being agreeable to wearing pants? NOTE: If your child is accused of being sexually inappropriate, that is a SIGN that there is sexual abuse going on, even in autistic individuals. Teachers are mandated reporters, those teachers broke a major law by not reporting suspected abuse.
So like good little automatons, we sent our son to school in pants. The screaming, swearing, and other behaviors did not stop with pants. Every single day there was a note in his backpack complaining about him– his behavior, his swearing, or his inappropriate behavior. I got to the point were if I did his homework with him, he still would get an F. There was nothing I could do that would satisfy them. What’s worse, even though the notebook was full of frilly writing and smiley faces despite negative reports every day, the teacher started telling me that he was annoying, he was obnoxious, or that he was bad. So every day I got the notebook full of negative reports, then I would be verbally reinforced with him being call obnoxious. About three weeks after the whole exposing himself and soliciting a BJ from another student happened, he had a massive tantrum. NOTE: If you are getting continual negative reports which are not adding up to what you are experiencing at home or in ABA therapy, there is SOMETHING going on.
The tantrum, though mentioned vaguely in at home notebook, was significant. My son had a tendency to bang his head. He normally did not bang it hard, or against hard objects. At some point during the day, my son had banged his head against a desk 14 times. He complained that he could not see. The teacher in question hypothesized that he was “trying to get out of going to gym,” or that it was “pink eye” that he was treated for some two weeks ago. She never intervened, she never called me when it happened, and she never sent him to the nurse when he complained he couldn’t see. I called the pediatric clinic on base immediately after he was unceremoniously shoved into my car, and again the teacher complained of his annoying behavior. The pediatric clinic told me to take him to the ER. I did so. The ER doctor hypothesized that Ryan had either bumped his cornea, or he had had a seizure. Months later we discovered that it was a seizure. NOTE: A child should not bump, bang, or otherwise hurt himself 14 times without intervention. I specifically signed a release that allowed his special education teacher to perform a therapeutic hold if my son was a danger to himself or others.
Sadly, a few months later, it was confirmed that he had had a seizure. Further testing from his behavioral therapy team indicated that he had regressed significantly. When leaving Ohio, he was tested at functioning at just below grade level (kindergarten), after the head banging incident he tested at a 2-year-old level. His IQ was at a 70, which was borderline cognitively delayed, it has since dropped significantly. His IQ fell several points, and is now considered severely cognitively delayed.
We have since moved from Florida, and now live in Colorado. My son is mainstreamed with an aide. He has pull outs for Science, Social Studies, Art, and Music. The reason I was told that he was never mainstreamed was because the kids would bully and tease him. He has never been bullied here. The kids know him and like him. He is actually popular. The only people I worried about bullying him were teachers. The psychological staff, and staff at the school have made me feel more comfortable about his school situation. This situation could have been totally preventable if the school district had just been forthright with their policies of self-contained classroom, and being sent to a separate school than what we were zoned for. If we had been informed about the school situation before we had enrolled him.
This is a note from the private placement we ended up placing our son in. Notice the teachers have awesome handwriting, but it does not contain anything about his tantrums, him being inattentive, complaints about his behavior, nothing. Nearly every day at ECAC my son came in happy, and he made progress towards his goals. It has taken nearly four years for him to progress beyond functioning at a 2-year-old level, and now he has progressed to the point were he was when we arrived in Florida.
If you want to skip the long drawn out story, here’s the recap:
- Trust your instincts. If there are alarm bells regarding your child, their placement, or their behavior, dig deeper.
- If your child is accused of something completely out of character, or doesn’t make sense, ask for an investigation, particularly if your child does something that is sexually aggressive or inappropriate.
- When you have a non-verbal, or barely verbal child, and their behavior is drastically different between school, home, and therapy ask questions.
- A child should not be injuring themselves more than 1 or 2 times. I understand kids are fast, but there is NO reason for a child to self injure 14 times with no intervention. Further, if something does happen, which it sometimes does, request that the teachers administer first aid, send the child to the nurse, or notify the parent immediately.
- If there are negative reports, make sure the reports are actionable. Teachers should not use words like irritating, annoying, or obnoxious. If your child is being described in adjectives like this, then you need to speak to administrators.
- Report abuse immediately, and follow up. The ER doctor submitted a DHS report, which was subsequently “lost” by the school district. If I had followed up, the teacher would have been fired instead of promoted to principle.
My son’s case is finally getting the attention that it deserves. There have been at least three instances of children abused at the different districts as recent as 2016. I know of five cases of abuse before and after 2011. The systematic abuse of non-verbal and non-communicative children in Okaloosa County has been occurring from before 2011-now. Parents need to come forward, and tell their stories.