Tampa, Florida brings us an appalling case of a single mother jailed because her child with autism missed too much school. Non-verbal and prone to disrupting class, the son attended half-days at his elementary school. His mother would often sit in the hall during that time waiting to have to take him home after his next meltdown. While her son is a very smart boy and achieves in class, she argued that she needed the flexibility to be able to keep him at home when his behavior precluded him attending school. In court, she produced a note from a doctor to that effect. The judge in the case chided her for not sending it to him earlier in order to avoid arrest. She was already on probation for prior truancies.
The 43-year-old mother recently suffered a stroke that she attributed to stress from the situation. The child’s grandmother and older siblings cared for her son while she was hospitalized for over a month.
Being arrested for truancy is one of the few things that hasn’t happened to me in the course of raising my sons with autism. I’ve been threatened with it, though. When I disagreed with the school system placing one of my sons in a program for conduct disordered children, I nearly suffered this fate. I had to file a declaration to homeschool in order to cover the many months and ultimately years it took to resolve this argument. Then they tried to use the fact that I was homeschooling to say I was opting out of their program voluntarily and thus had no rights.
The more stories I hear of the suffering of parents of autism, the more alarmed I become. Our society is just so far behind the curve in understanding and appreciating the trials and tribulations of raising a child on the autism spectrum. Epic fail for Florida schools to make this a matter for the courts instead of having her son’s IEP team hunker down and arrive at a plan that would genuinely meet his needs.
Recently, I learned that schools can create programs for children with autism that are part homeschool and part classroom attendance. This seems to be an obvious solution. To see this mom in an orange jail suit is infuriating and heartbreaking. Once again, we need to sound the clarion call for more support to families of children with autism.