A disturbing story has emerged from Deer Park, Texas, where a teacher has been accused of verbally mocking, taunting and in some cases, abusing children with autism and
other special needs. Allegations surfaced back in December at a Deer Park ISD campus, claiming the teacher verbally and physically mistreated her students. Whistleblowers eventually came to the parents with the allegations, claiming that initial attempts to notify school officials fell on
deaf ears. Now, the parents of the students want answers.
Kevin Graham, father of one of the children with autism, has called the actions by his son’s teacher "child abuse." He and other parents are pressing for the teacher to be fired, along with a supervisor who failed to take action when the alleged abuse was first reported. Both teachers were moved to other schools after claims were made public and are currently still teaching special education students.
Outraged parents and advocates are accusing Fairmont Junior High School of putting the institution before its students and sweeping the allegations under the rug.
This story is disturbing on many levels and is part of a nationwide trend involving children with autism and other special needs being mistreated by
their teachers. Oftentimes, the onus is placed on parents and students to prove their claims and it usually takes a video of the allegations going public before swift action is taken.
Case in point, in November of last year, a shocking video surfaced (posted below) that shows 15-year-old student Julio Artuz being verbally abused and threatened by his teacher, who told Artuz he would kick his a** "from here to kingdom-come." The teacher was eventually fired, but not after public pressure ensued once the video went viral. No one had believed Artuz (including his parents) about the ongoing verbal abuse until he secretly recorded one of the incidents.
Although it has been extensively discussed, there has to be a greater push to install cameras inside of classrooms across the country where special needs students are educated. Until that happens, we will continue to read about these kinds of stories and students with special needs will continue to suffer at the hands of teachers who have no business being around these types of children.
As for the spray bottle teacher and her supervisor, a board meeting will be held in three weeks among Deer Park officials, who will have the authority to overturn the administration’s decision not to fire the teachers.
Let’s hope they do the right thing and protect other special needs students from abuse in the future.
As the the 2012 election year shifts into full gear, the subject of legalizing marijuana has yet again come to the forefront. Most notably, Ron Paul has gained a large following of pro-marijuana advocates, citing his consistent pot-friendly stance during his 30-year tenure in the House of
Outside of the realm of politics, marijuana also has the autism community talking, with many questioning the safeness and efficacy of the drug for those on the autism spectrum.
In 2009, Mieko Hester-Perez made national headlines for giving her then-ten-year-old son marijuana, which she claims saved his life. With her son Joey’s weight dropping to a dangerous 46 lbs. due to his very poor diet, Perez began prescribed treatments of marijuana-laced brownies, which
caused the youngster to immediately gain 38 lbs., restoring his health in the process. In addition to an increased appetite, Perez also claims the
marijuana helped curb her son’s self-injurious behavior, wandering and aggressive demeanor — all within a short period of time.
As the Perez story made the rounds, other desperate families quickly followed suit, creating a huge tug-of-war debate about the ethical, legal and health implications of medical marijuana for autism.
Not surprisingly, some physicians have been very critical of its use and claim there is little data to support its effectiveness and argue that prolonged treatments can have huge implications for those on the autism spectrum. And as one of our authors pointed out in a story last year, the use of psychotropics and other mind-altering drugs for autism almost always result in undesired consequences.
I agree that we should be extremely wary of putting anything in our children’s bodies that will affect their mood, behavior or psychological state. However, playing the role of devil’s advocate, it’s also very difficult to argue against the success Mieko Hester-Perez has experienced with her child.
We would love to get your thoughts on this topic — please let us know what you think in the comment section below.
Courtesy: Inked for Autism, Tattoos With A Purpose
With autism now affecting 1 in 110 children (with a much higher unofficial rate), you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who is not directly or indirectly affected by the disorder. Because of these high numbers and the growing popularity of tattoos in recent years, many tattoo shops across the country are seeing a large spike in demand for autism-themed artwork.
There are also a growing number of tattoo parlors that are partnering up with autism organizations to help raising awareness and funding, with a
portion of proceeds going towards treatment and services. For example, Expressions Ink in Wausau, Wisconsin is a tattoo shop that has previously donated funds from its autism-themed work.
Adding to the growing popularity of autism tattoos, Inked for Autism, Tattoos With a Purposeis a Facebook Page established in July of 2011 for the purpose of recognizing "those who have branded their bodies in honor of someone or themselves with autism." The group has a great gallery of user-submitted photos from people who have been inked with autism-themed tattoos.
I think the idea of tattoos for autism fundraising is a great concept that has the potential to gain some serious momentum. If you are a tattoo artist (or shop owner) and are interested in donating a portion of your proceeds from your autism-related tattoos, please email us with your information and we’ll add you to this page as a resource.
Be sure to include where you are located and a website or Facebook Page link.
When choosing where to donate your funds, be sure to do your homework and consulte with your customer on what organization is the best fit for you both. Not all autism organizations are the same, so do some research and choose wisely! If you need help selecting, see our foundation and organization page for some ideas.
For those who are interested in getting a tattoo, keep in mind that this is a permanent commitment and a decision that should not be taken lightly. Check out this tattoo advice page
for some great tips and ideas if you are in the market for a tattoo. If you do make the leap, or have done so already, be sure to email us your tattoo photo and we’ll be sure to share with our readers (no inappropriate pics, please).
Those of you who have been following The United States of Autism for a little while know that the film features a family out of Iowa who are incredibly active in the 2012 US Presidential Elections, speaking about autism every time the season comes around. What you may not know is that thanks to them, the only person still currently running for president this year that has not received a t-shirt and heard about the film is President Obama himself!
Thanks to Lin, Mark, and Sam Wessels, nearly all of the 2012 GOP Presidential election candidates heard about the film, including: Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Tim Pawlenty. Heck, even Mike Huckabee got his picture taken with Sam. Not only that, but videos of Sam Wessels speaking with election candidates about autism and the film this cycle generated over 370,000 hits on YouTube so far. That’s a lot of people hearing about one boy and autism, and good for the autism movement no matter what people say out there.
One of the things that makes The United States of Autism the feature documentary for autism and the 2012 election year and beyond is the strength of
the people involved.
Here, the Wessels family are not afraid to state what their views are on the movement and what they believe is necessary to move everyone forward. There are many out there who do not agree with them and we take no stance either way on the content of the message. However, those involved in the movie believe that it is far more dangerous to stifle opinions, even if one vehemently disagrees. Long term, some sort of common ground must be built for all of the individuals, whether they be children or adults on the autism spectrum, so whether you’re a parent of a severe child that cannot speak and possibly never will, to a fully functioning adult that is either excelling or searching for acceptance and growth in society, to anyone in between, all of these groups have to work together if this thing called “autism” is going to become a movement for those seeking a better life. Ultimately, this is what the film is about.
Thank you to Lin, Mark, and Sam for standing tall for what you believe and making sure the world hears you, especially in shaking hands with nearly every potential leader of the free world for the next 4 years to do so. We at The United States of Autism are proud to have you as one of our featured families, and look forward to sharing your heart with the world.
Now if only someone could help us get the message to President Obama……
Record and Time Magazine have both published articles in the last few days addressing the latest trend of characters with autism appearing in film and/or television. We’ve touched on this topic in the past and have received mixed feedback from readers on the helpfulness (or lack thereof) of this growing trend. There are some who think
the increased exposure of characters with autism is a good thing and draws greater attention to the disorder, helping to further the cause of understanding and acceptance.
However, there are some who vehemently oppose the portrayal of those with autism in film and television when it’s not done with complete accuracy. For example, a recent Autism Key reader wrote the following in response to a review we posted on Fox’s Touch:
"My biggest complaint about this show was turning the boy’s autism into a “mystical power”. While some issues were obvious to those of us who have lived with these children – others were just not….
…I’m disappointed that the boy is made out to be some sort of “future-manipulator” who can see patterns of so many different lives that wonderously
[sic] connect with each other. the final straw was the boy hugging dad at the end (even if it was to grab the cell phone out of dad’s back pocket). Oversensitivity to touch is still oversensitivity to touch….
…This is a TV show about mysticism. Throwing in the autism factor seems to be an attempt at being “trendy” with the diagnosis “flavor-of-the-week” now that autism is more in the public’s awareness."
I think my views fall somewhere in the middle of this debate. Yes, stereotypes are never helpful, particularly when it comes to how those with autism are portrayed, and repeated instances of autistics being depicted as savants or supernatural heroes certainly do not properly represent the vast majority of those with the disorder.
However, autism is a spectrum disorder by definition and I think no matter how those with it are portrayed, there will always be a segment within the autism community who take issue with writers and directors "not getting it right."
What’s most important is that these shows are stirring debate and getting others outside the autism community talking, which can be very beneficial for all involved. We have to accept the fact that there will always be errors, omissions and misrepresentations in Hollywood (no matter the topic), so I feel the responsibility of complete and accurate depictions of autism should be reserved for documentaries.
Here’s a partial list of films and television shows that have included characters with autism. There are others that could have also been included (i.e. Forrest Gump), but this list is of those that specifically address or allude to the disorder:
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Film)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 45%
Fly Away (Film)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Temple Grandin (Film – Made for HBO)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
My Name is Khan (Film)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64%
Mozart the Whale (Film)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%
Boston Legal (Television)
The Black Balloon (Film)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Snow Cake (Film)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 66%
Miracle Run (Film – Made for Television)
When we, the siblings of someone with special needs, hear the word “retarded” or “retard,” even in the most seemingly-casual context, it strikes us hard.
When we hear it, we hear it as an echo of all the times our brothers and sisters were not welcomed. It’s an echo of every rejection, overt or covert, of every uncomfortable moment when we felt that we had to somehow explain or justify our siblings’ very existence. It reminds us of every time we couldn’t find the words to say that, in our moments of clarity, we see autism as a unique part of who they are.
The r-word is a jeer, a mockery and an attempt to draw an ever-more-pronounced line between those who are considered neurotypical and those who are not.
It doesn’t matter who says it – a dear friend or a stranger passing by on the street. Regardless of the speaker, the effect is the same: a feeling of uneasiness and hurt. As discussed in a recent
article, the r-word is alive and well and we, the siblings (as well as parents, caregivers, friends and loved ones), are wounded every time we hear it.
Sometimes, we swallow our anger and turn away. Sometimes, we ignore it, pretending it doesn’t matter. But every time we do this, we feel we have betrayed the person we love (and we have).
Other times, we are given the grace and courage to speak up and take a stand. In those times, we say in as calm a voice as we can manage, “Please don’t say that word. It’s offensive.” And more often than not, we get strange looks, or forced, unfeeling apologies. We may get derided for “making a big deal out of nothing.” On rare occasions, the request may be received with appreciation, and a true apology ensues.
Yet, regardless of the response, we must keep speaking up. We may feel insecure in doing so, but our love must be greater than our fear. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” Not speaking up when we hear the r-word is one of those times.
If you were to tell me that my brother is retarded because he has autism, here’s what I would say:
“Please don’t say that word. Language shapes thought and when you say that another person is retarded, you’re judging them as inferior. You’re saying that they are not worthy of being treated with dignity and respect. You’re treating them as though they are less than you, and in doing so, you expose a deep-seated ignorance and bias.
My brother’s gifts are different than yours, not less-than. My brother’s life may be different than yours, but again, not less-than. I would like to welcome you to a world of diversity, where deviating from normal isn’t a bad thing. I would like to let you know that there’s challenge in that world, but there is also joy.
If you call my brother (or anyone else) retarded, you’re being hurtful to them, and to those who love them. But on a deeper level, you’re also rejecting yourself. You’re rejecting the parts of yourself that need patience, acceptance and love. You’re covering up your own vulnerability by mocking the supposed weakness of another."
On March 7, 2012 , "Spread the Word to End the
Word" will be holding its “annual day of activation” to help further raise awareness and educate others about this issue. Consider taking part in this event and let others know that each time individuals use the r-word, it can have a profound impact on others. And when they do, we all lose out.
——- About the Author
Caroline McGraw is a would-be childhood paleontologist turned storyteller, digging for treasure in people with autism & intellectual disabilities (& empowering caregivers to do the same). Her younger brother, Willie, has autism, and she writes about finding meaning in your most challenging relationships at A Wish Come Clear. Her first book, Your Creed of Care: How To Dig For Treasure In People (Without Getting Buried Alive) is a guide for caregivers, free to all who elect to receive posts via email at:
I am not one who offends easily, nor do I consider myself overly-sensitive. However, there are some words that should simply be extinguished from our vernacular. "Retard" is one of them.
Earlier this week, I was out shopping and overheard a young girl use the term in passing and it honestly bothered me a great deal. As the father of a child with autism, I’ve learned over the years that words and labels matter and many times, they can have devastating consequences.
The R-word is almost always used as a pejorative and stems from the longer, medically acceptable term "mental retardation," typically describing someone who has an IQ below 70. But like many other words in the English language, it has evolved over the years and is often used in a derogatory manner. When used improperly, "retard" and "retarded" simply reinforce stereotypes of those with emotional and intellectual disabilities and degrade them as human beings in the process.
The shopping incident got me thinking all week about the topic, so out of curiosity, I decided to do a search on Twitter to see how many messages contained the term. Not surprisingly, a flood of results came up just in the last few days, many from teens and young adults who simply don’t (but should) know better. However, I also found some other tweets from older adults as well, some with a large number of followers:
There were countless others, but these examples are a stark reminder that our society still has a long way to go in educating the public that the r-word is no longer an acceptable term to use, even in jest.
To help shed light on this subject, The Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation (in conjunction with Best Buddies and the Special Olympics) has created a Web site and campaign for the sole purpose of abolishing the term once and for all. Established in 2008, R-word.org has a stated mission to "Spread the Word to End the Word ®." The site accepts online pledges from individuals of all ages, who affirm that they will "support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities." To date, there have been over 235,000 submissions.
It’s heartening to see that this organization, and others like it, are proactively doing something about this issue. However, as many people prove by their tweets and conversations, we still have a long way to go.
Wandering-related episodes involving those with autism is a serious issue and stories seem to come in on a weekly basis pertaining to the topic.
Unfortunately, not all of them have happy endings.
Many autism groups and organizations have been pushing to curb this epidemic, and some have emerged as leaders in advocacy for autism safety and awareness. For example, Autism Risk and Safety Management, founded by Dennis Debbaudt, is an organization that trains police, law enforcement professionals and first responders on how to properly diffuse potentially adverse situations involving children and adults with autism. Debbaudt is a former law enforcement official and an autism father that offers informative seminars and training across the country.
The National Autism Association is another group that has advocated for increased safety and awareness for those with autism, particularly in the areas of wandering and restrain & seclusion. Taking its plight to the next level, the NAA has just announced the second launch of its "Big Red Safety Box," a special kit that includes items and information to help prevent wandering-related incidents by those with autism spectrum disorders.
For a limited time (and while supplies last), the Big Red Safety Box is being offered to parents, families and caregivers of those with autism. The kits are limited to one per family and will be packaged and shipped by a company that employs adults with autism and other developmental disorders. Each box will include:
1) Educational materials and tools:
A caregiver checklist
A Family Wandering Emergency Plan
A first-responder profile form
A wandering-prevention brochure
A sample IEP Letter
2) Two (2) GE Door Alarms
3) One (1) Who’s Shoe ID
This free resource is being made available, thanks to some generous sponsors and donors that have stepped up to the plate. Supplies will be limited, so be sure to head on over to http://www.nationalautismassociation.org and reserve your box today.
For those who would like to support this great initiative, the NAA is looking for sponsors to help keep the program going after supplies run out.
Drowning resulting from wandering-related episodes continues to be the leading cause of death of those with autism spectrum disorders. Hopefully, with programs like these, that will no longer be the case in the very near future.
In a follow up to our most recent update on Ayn
Van Dyk, there have been more disturbing details brought to our attention that are worth passing along. Apparently, this is not the first time the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) in British Columbia has been involved in a major controversy involving the removal of a child from their home.
Back in October of 2007, Paul and Zabeth Bayne of Surrey, British Columbia (Canada) embarked on a four-year-long nightmare when all three of their children were seized and taken away after authorities suspected Shaken Baby Syndrome in their then-two-month-old daughter. The Bayne’s were adamant that the child’s injuries were sustained when an older sibling tripped and fell directly on top of the little girl, but their claims fell on deaf ears.
Despite unsubstantiated evidence, the children were stripped away from their parents and placed in foster care, shuffled from family-to-family over the years. To make matters worse, during the ordeal, a fourth child was also taken away by Ministry officials only five hours after Zabeth gave birth and was still in the hospital.
The Bayne’s horrifying ordeal finally ended in August of 2011 when they were exonerated and all four children were returned to them. However, the damage had been done, courtesy of the "shoot first" and ask questions later tactics of Ministry officials. You can read the full account of the Bayne story here.
Now, jump to June of 2011, when Derek Hoare briefly lost sight of Ayn, his nine-year-old daughter with autism. She had been playing in the backyard, which was surrounded by a six-foot high fence. Hoare immediately called police when she went missing and a search ensued, finding Ayn safe in a nearby neighbor’s backyard.
As with the Bayne children, Hoare’s daughter was seized by MCFD authorities, who claimed they were simply lightening the load of an overwhelmed single father of three. Ayn was placed in a psychiatric facility and given powerful and dangerous antipsychotic drugs and has been in foster care ever since. Hoare has unsuccessfully fought for his daughter’s return and his next court date is scheduled for the end of 2012. The judicial process will have Ayn’s earliest possible return in February of 2013, assuming there are no more delays. To add insult to injury, MCFD officials, at their discretion, can return Ayn at any time back to her father.
The cases involving Derek Hoare and the Bayne family are strikingly similar, not only for the gross injustices suffered at the hands of government officials, but because they both involve the same MCFD division in British Columbia. As if these cases weren’t enough, there is also the heartbreaking case of Betty-Ann and Allan Burnett — yet another family who’s lives were turned upside down by the MCFD in BC. You can learn about the Burnett story here.
These cases (and others like them) are so upsetting in nature, someone needs to start asking some tough questions.
Things are seriously wrong when government authorities can arbitrarily take children from their homes without due process, leaving parents at the mercy of a painfully slow judicial system.
Ironically, the MCFD claims to have the best interest of children at heart, but it’s these types of hair-trigger reactions that cause irreparable harm to to the very children they are purporting to protect. Undoubtedly, there are legitimate instances when children need to be removed from their homes due to abusive or unsafe environments, but at the same time, common sense must be administered.
Much like the Bayne family, Derek and Ayn have passionate advocates and Internet volunteers petitioning on their behalf. Let’s hope history doesn’t
repeat itself and they don’t have to wait another 3 years to be reunited.
By all accounts, Christopher Duffley didn’t have a fighting chance. Born in May of 2001, Duffley’s biological parents tested positive for Oxycontin and cocaine, contributing to a premature birth. Weighing in at less than two pounds, Christopher was born permanently blind (detached retinas), along with a myriad of other health problems, requiring a seven-month hospital stay.
Initially placed in foster care, Christopher’s aunt and uncle soon took him in as their own, eventually adopting him at the age of 2.
As if the his existing health problems weren’t enough, Christopher didn’t speak in full sentences until the first grade and was later
diagnosed with autism.
Despite the challenges, Duffley’s adopted parents (who are devout Christians), didn’t lose hope or waiver in their faith. And as the years passed, they would discover that Christopher displayed tremendous giftings in music. Particularly fond of Christian praise and worship songs, Christopher is now in high demand to perform at churches, sporting events and other venues.
Duffley’s story is an amazing testament that no matter how challenging one’s situation may appear, there will always be silver linings in the midst of the obstacles and pain. In fact, Christopher’s parents have used his story to advocate on behalf of pro-life groups to show that what society would often consider "damaged" or unwanted, is actually something to be considered very special.
Check out the performance below from last year, when Duffley sings "Open the Eyes to My Heart" at a church service — be sure to have some Kleenex handy.
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Autism strikes a family’s heart, soul and wallet. Estimates by The Autism Society puts a lifetime of care for an autistic child at $3.2 million. Autism parents know firsthand the brutal toll to the family coffers of therapies that can run $40,000 to $50,00 per year. Families tangle with insurance companies, invariably ending up with […]