Assault on Autism Student a Sobering Reminder for Families

Autism Assault

Among the many autism-related stories I have read, written and edited over the years, there are some that have left a profound and lasting impact on me. Stories involving wandering-related deaths involving children with autism are always heartbreaking, as are stories involving injustice suffered by those with autism and their families — of which, Ayn Van Dyk, Neli Latson and Aislinn Wendrow all come to mind. However, there is one story in particular that has been extremely troubling, not only because of the initial events, but also the aftermath and lack of closure that followed.

In August of 2009, a 20-second YouTube video (posted below) was released and showed a Pittsburgh-area teacher slapping and verbally abusing a student with autism. The incident, which occurred in March of 2008, revealed every autism parent’s worst nightmare: a physical assault at the hands of someone who’s job it is to care for and educate a special needs child.

In the video, a student named J.R. is violently slapped by his teacher, at which point she screams, “Stop moving your chair back. Move it! And you stay back there! I’ve had it with you!” The video was secretly recorded by a student aid, who claimed to have witnessed the same teacher physically assaulting the non-verbal youngster on previous occasions.

I spoke to J.R.’s mother about a year ago and at the time, little had taken place in the way of closure. In fact, the YouTube user who originally uploaded the video, a family friend, wrote the following last year:

"Update:  This teacher was let go from her job, but no charges have been filed against her or the school district. The cameras that were supposed to be installed in all of the class rooms (sic) at this school…it has not happened."
This story is a sobering reminder of the constant vigilance that is needed when dealing with schools, teachers and caregivers that are involved in the lives of children with autism and other special needs. Hopefully, J.R. is doing well now and his family has been able to move on from this. Reopening old wounds is not the intention here, but this story should be a constant reminder of how vulnerable our children can be and how important it is to know exactly who we are entrusting them with.

11 Responses to Assault on Autism Student a Sobering Reminder for Families

  1. pamela says:

    Why was she not arrested?

  2. Lisa Bailey says:

    How awful. Unfortunately as seen by article comment regarding vigilance with schools/teachers/caregivers- some wonderful people can potentially be put in difficult situations all because of the few as illustrated in this appalling video.

  3. Rosanne Prak says:

    My son has Autism and if that was to happen to him i would be furious and would have filed police report and court orders to just be let go is basically aslap on the wrist i cant believe it . I hope JR is doing well and God bless his Family

  4. Shawn says:

    Appalling. When my ASD son was in 4th grade, his teacher became enraged, picked up his desk, slammed it down, jerked him out of his chair and screamed at him in front of the class. She had recently been voted Teacher of the Year.

  5. Diane Siegler Fritz says:

    I am the mother of an autistic child. I am also a special education teacher. This is soooooo wrong. This person hopefully was fired. There is no reason for this.

    I will say that just like us parents, their teachers also get “stressed out” too. To prevent this from happening, teachers need to know what they are getting into. Sometimes teachers go into special ed because they “feel sorry” for these students. Then they go into the field and realize that they are not cut out for the job. Special Ed. often winds up as a lot of drama and paperwork. Teachers need to learn stress-reducing activities and utilize them. Schools need to provide a low-stress environment for the teacher and the student (as much as possible).

  6. kim osmar says:

    there is no excuse to attack and abuse any child, let alone a child that can not tell anyone what is being done to him. I respect the aide that reported and taped this. This is so sad; my son has been dealing with workers his entire 9 years of life; and never did i ever have any reason to believe that any of this ever happened. His teachers and aides have all been wonderful to him. It goes to show you, that you have to be a caring and nurturing person to go forward with this career; and my son is being main-streamed into school in September and scares the living daylights out of me to see this; makes my heart sink; and is my worst nightmare.

  7. Andrea says:

    This is so scary, especially for those of us with non verbal kids. It’s my greatest fear that my sons are being treated like that and can’t tell me. I feel sick!

  8. Katie Kaven says:

    Ugh…this breaks my heart. If this were my son, I’d be doing more than slapping this lady for laying a finger on my child. Praying for this family!

  9. Brenda Morvant says:

    Hard to believe this person was only fired and not arrested for battery at the least. Thank God for the aid or no telling how bad this could have gotten for this child. Also, no telling how long this had been going on , or how many children were being verbally and physically abused by this mentally challenged person. To me you have to have a mental problem to abuse a child, special needs or not. I would not let this go if i were the parent of a child being abused.

  10. Jean Nicol says:

    Have you read an update on Ayn van Dyk’s story since her dad finally could present at the first case conference concerning her abduction and future care? It was not the outcome hoped for – no justice served at all.

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  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
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