Barbaric School Punishment of Children with Autism Still Legal 

A shocking story out of Texas reminds us of the need for a federal law banning the use of aversive measures in educational settings. Children with autism at Exley Elementary School in Katy had cotton balls soaked in vinegar put in their mouths as werewas forced to go on a treadmill longer and faster as a form of punishment. Incredibly, no laws exist to prohibit these and other nationally reported tactics such as being denied food and water, spraying students in the eyes with lemon juice, force feeding and shaving cream being put in the mouth. 

Outraged parents, Carol and Bill Rutar, point out that if an adult did this to a child, he or she would be arrested and if this happened to a neurotypical child in a general education setting, there would be a public hue and cry against it. At this time, Exley Elementary is now under investigation. The principal would only go so far as to say that “a treadmill was used” and “vinegar was introduced." While the school will obviously not be in any legal trouble, hopefully the negative attention will lead to aversives being banned. But Texas still allows corporal punishment in schools, so the children with autism may just get paddled instead.

When my son with autism was in fourth grade, he habitually got thrown out of his classroom for stimming behaviors such as tapping his pencil. Then he was confined to a closet-sized room and forced to forego both lunch and recess to complete the work he missed while he was sobbing in the hall. Unfortunately, this is but one example of the barbaric treatment he has suffered at the hands of the school system. After so many years and so many incidents, I am home schooling him for high school.

Much progress has been made in autism awareness, but ignorance is still deeply rooted in our educational systems, which lags shocking behind current best practices for autism. National legislation is desperately needed to combat the horrible things that can happen to our children when they go to school.

13 Responses to Barbaric School Punishment of Children with Autism Still Legal 

  1. Debbie K. says:

    That is horrific! I often hear people talk about “washing a child’s mouth out with soap” as punishment. That is also abuse! Why should it be necessary to inflict pain or any form of discomfort? Surely there are better ways to change a child’s behavior. What about rewards? My son’s teacher gives out small pieces of candy for good behavior. You should see those kids scramble to get that tiny bit of chocolate or whatever else they choose from her bag of goodies!

  2. Julie Worley says:

    If school employees hit students with wooden paddles to inflict pain as punishment in public, they’d be arrested for assault as would any parent, police officer, lawmaker or U.S. Supreme Court Justice!
    Search Tell Congress to Support The Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act and complete the simple form to email an automated letter to your Representatives in Congress urging them to Support H.R. 3027 “The Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act”, which can be sent Daily.
    Corporal Punishment/Paddling of Students is Illegal in Schools in 31 U.S. States.
    School teachers, coaches and administrators are mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse, yet are not held to any safety standards to protect students from paddling injuries when they hit students with wooden paddles to inflict pain as punishment for minor infractions that put taxpayer funds at risk due to lawsuits against school districts. No training, testing or certification is required for school employees to administer pain to students as punishment. Pain, Fear, Intimidation and Humiliation are not positive “Disciplinary Tools” nor do they create a safe learning environment. All U.S. students Must have Equal access to safe and healthy learning environments in our taxpayer funded schools
    Search “A Violent Education” for disturbing Facts.
    Paddling is Bullying, Outlaw It, Says U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, who introduced a federal bill to ban corporal punishment in American schools on September 22, 2011.
    “Bullying is enough of a problem among students; the teachers shouldn’t be doing it, too. There’s nothing positive or productive about corporal punishment,” McCarthy said on her House website.
    The bill would ban paddling, spanking and all other forms of physical pain as punishment of students K-12.
    Nineteen U.S. states allow corporal punishment in school, most of them in the south. They are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.
    Please add your voice to support Rep. McCarthy’s Bill to Ban Corporal Punishment of Students at donthitstudents dot com

  3. Susan says:

    Thank you for sending this important information that we can all act upon.


  4. dana says:

    what the hell..This is ridiculous,we are supposed to protect our children. And children with disabilities have a hard time already, they don’t need anything else added to their situation.

  5. Susan says:

    For my son, the abuse he suffered in school landed him in the psychiatric ward.

  6. J Mahan says:

    While NC still allows corporal punishment, it has banned the practice for children with disabilities, including those with autism. Currently only 17 out of 100 counties in NC reported use of physical punishment in schools. I’m not saying that incidents elsewhere don’t occur. I’d love to see an outright ban on such practices. We are working in NC not just to end these practices but to use positive behavioral supports as well.

  7. Susan says:

    That’s good news, good luck getting a complete ban.

  8. Annie says:

    My son is on the Autism Spectrum and has been bullied in school many times. The school officials do nothing to the children bulling him and instead, tell me that my sons perception on every incident was wrong and that he was not bullied..I am outraged at this and am taking action to resolve the schools ignorance on what “Bulling” really is..

  9. Susan says:

    I know what you mean. Even when bullying was acknowledged my son got in more trouble than the bully because he flipped out so spectacularly. Sometimes the teachers are cuing the children as well by punishing symptoms and expressing antagonism towards the child with autism. It’s very tough.

  10. Amayo Peter says:

    Aversive means of taking care of behavior should not be encouraged. Rather teachers should be taught about using re enforcers which could either be negative or positive. This is specially advocated for special ones”needs” so that they wouldn’t be discouraged from learning. Noting what you wrote above about tutoring your child at home because of school mistakes, it could have been avoided if the teachers knew things about him (what he likes). Using this things in collaboration with parent would have being a weapon. However, to be used slowly.

    I wonder when I read this things about schools abroad. My country Nigeria, is yet to take these issues serious,meaning we still have long way to go.

  11. Susan says:

    Experts like Dr. Tony Attwood have long maintained that punishment doesn’t work and is inappropriate for kids with autism, but most teachers just aren’t trained in best practices, the US is way behind the curve. Sounds like Nigeria is even further behind, which is difficult to grasp.

    Thanks for writing…

  12. autism care says:

    An autistic child may throw tantrum or behave aggressively when he is disappointed or frustrated as other children do. But he is not doing it intentionally, because as an autistic child, he is unable to understand that other people have thoughts and feelings. Punishment must fit the crime. Whenever possible, the only punishment should be experiencing the natural and logical consequences of an undesirable action. If an undesirable behavior happens repeatedly, and neither incentives nor disincentives seem to curb it, you should look closer for hidden causes. Behavior analysis techniques can be very useful in this regard.

  13. Susan Moffitt says:

    thanks for writing…

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