Florida Mom Jailed for Truancy of Son with Autism

Courtesy: WTSP.com

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.

23 Responses to Florida Mom Jailed for Truancy of Son with Autism

  1. Jean says:

    This is horrific. how on earth is jailing this woman going to help anyone??? xxx

  2. Susan says:

    I feel so badly for her. I hope her community rallies around her.


  3. Viv says:

    Shame on Florida school board!!! This is unacceptable. Autism society please help this lady get released from jail? File law suit against the school board so this doesn’t happen again and get some proper assistance for her and her son.

  4. Michael Stuart says:

    The judge needs to be sent to jail, and then sentenced to one year working with autistic children in order to rehabilitate him. Next I would give the same sentence to those IQ-deficient individuals working for the Department of Education in Tallahassee.

  5. Lisa Fry says:

    So sorry for son and Mother. My son also had meltdowns –due to Asperger’s. In elementary school at 9 years old his school called the police and they handcuffed him during a meltdown and took him to jail. Of course his case was dismissed by Dept of Juvenile Justice. Only after I filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights did the school district acknowledge his disability and make modify his IEP. The IEP is your best friend. It supercedes school policy. If you can’t agree on the IEP, agree to disagree and request mediation. Get every little thing/modification in writing in the IEP. Keep a log and document everything.If the IEP is not followed the school is breaking the law. The OCR is all about following policy. The most important part of the IEP is POSITIVE BEHAVIOR INTERVENTION USED IN THE SETTING IN WHICH THE SKILLS A USED. My son is now 16 and is in mainstream high school and his teachers enjoy him in their class. He is proof positive that POSITIVE INTERVENTION works. Always believe in your child now matter the situation.

  6. Teresa says:

    This child should have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) agreed to by both family and school. Behavior is written into such a plan and “melt downs” are handled in an agreed fashion by educators. If the child needs more “home” time it should be written into the IEP. There is no reason this mother should be jailed unless the school has tried to provide services and she has refused.

  7. Mike7106 says:

    The judge needs to be sent to jail, and then sentenced to one year working with autistic children in order to rehabilitate him. Next I would give the same sentence to those IQ-deficient individuals working for the Department of Education in Tallahassee.

    No. He doesn’t belong near any children. And, he should be vanquished from the legal system.

  8. Joan says:

    There is something very wrong with our current school system and the lack of understanding of Autism.

    I feel so bad for this mom.

  9. Rose says:

    How unfortunate that the judge didn’t wait to do some research on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in general and this child’s case in particular before sentencing to the mom to prison. Before condemning the school district, I would like to have more information of the policies and procedures in place in that school district before making judgment on whether or not the district failed in the case of this child.

    The sad reality is that most schools are not equipped to handle the more serious cases of ASD or other handicapping conditions. During periods of funding cutbacks, it is often the special needs programs that are cut first. Many schools do not have the staff to deal with more severe cases, and given the fact that ASD represents a spectrum of symptoms, schools deal best with the more typical cases.

    The judge clearly needs to be educated on ASD and how major meltdowns impact that child and all other children in the school. Hopefully someone can intervene on the mother’s behalf so that she can be home to be with her child. I cannot even imagine why the judge thought punishing the mother was the way to resolve this issue.

  10. Lisa T says:

    I feel for this mom I am homeschooling too for many of the same reasons. I have a gifted child and our school district ignored her. She took naps in class when she wasn’t causing trouble when she was board. I have also worked in a therapy school- NO THANK YOU!!! The therapy part can be helpful but the Education SUCKS. I was also given the students who had the meltdowns (and I am not a special education teacher),closed their achievement gaps and had them excelling in less than a half of a school year. If you keep pushing the kids buttons because you need to be in control-duh what do you expect!


  11. Monk Pierre says:

    I am an accomplished monk and academc, officially diagnosed Atypical on the Spectrum/PDD intersecting with Asperger’s. My mother, God rest her soul, was also threatened one time with truancy when she insisted, on the advice of our family physician, that my attendance in the classroom be delayed until age 9, and that my mother would home school under supervision until then. Dating myself, the system at the time was far less accomodating; so at the advice of a priest with forsight, my mother simply had the physician write notes, time to time, for sick days through out grammar school, to give me time to detach from the classroom dynamics and disengage/meltdown in the privacy of my own home. She sent me to a prep school which was more visionary for the time. Having spoken with the principal, I was allowed to do a number of classes independently in the library during regularly schedule class periods. To facilitate university at the Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral levels, I specifically chose institutions in my areas that supported students who were ‘self-starters’ and ‘more inquisitive than the norm’, so for the first degree 1/3rd of classes were independently done under prof supervision; for the second degree 1/2; and for the third degree 2/3rds of the degree was independently done. I found, like Dr. Temple Grandin, mentoring to be very beneficial, not only for myself, but for the mentor as well — who has an audience to test of his or her own pet theories as well — allowing me not only being privy to how ideas come about and get polished; but learning to polish my own critical skills. Such arrangements make education more humane, more creative, and more adaptive to individual personality-types.

  12. danielle says:

    this is my mom!! keep truckin mom you’re awesome!!! :^D <3 <3

  13. Susan says:


    Please convey all our love and support to your mom…SM

  14. Just Visiting says:

    This ordeal probably has more to do with FTE funding than anything else. Schools get extra funds for special needs kids. But they have to be in school to get those funds. Miss too many days and, well, the admin can’t validate getting the funds. So what they do is force these kids to come to school, even if it’s only for an hour so they can count them as “present” and therefore the school gets the money. That’s why it worked out so well with Mom sitting in the hallway. They got their attendance count and that’s all that counts.

  15. rachel says:

    This is sick how could they jail her ! They wanted money for that child not safty i have a son with autism and i will do as i see fit ! I will do my best to get this word around the world!

  16. jessie says:

    As a parent of a child with Autism myself I am appalled at this. However one thing I do know is that this Mum is strong and she will not give up the fight against the system that doesnt understand. My thoughts go out to you and your family. Keep strong and keep doing what your are doing best being a mum to a very special person. Those that dont understand, dont judge. Good Luck Hun. Dont give up. Write a book and change the laws….

    jessie UK.xxx

  17. Louise and Paul Nixon says:

    Unbelievable in the 21st Century. What will our future ancestors think? Cruel, unkind and lacking understanding. Florida really need to re-think.

  18. Roxanne m Azure says:

    This woman has rights her child has needs that need to be met.Please take this into consideration AUTISM is REAL my son has this move out of FLORIDA before file a loss suit first.Than move far from there.THIS SON NEEDS HIS MOTHER ONLY A MOTHER OF A AUTISTIC CHILD UNDERSTANDS THERE CHILD.COME ON PEOPLE GO AFTER THE DRUGS AND CRIMES THIS IS A MOTHER THAT CARES ABOUT HER SONS NEEDS, ALONG WITH HIS CHALLENGES.

  19. Delta Jordan says:

    Hi Danielle, your mother has every right to homeschool you and to keep you home when you need to be! The officials who have stressed your family out are in the wrong.

  20. entitie says:

    im going threw the missing to much school thing right now…they are taking me to court…and im fighting it…my son is 7 years old an has problems…fits when something triggers them..they are telling me I could get probation… 500 fine …and have to put a 500 school bond on him…you no what the real kicker is….the school has called me to come get him because of the fits…theses laws must be changed…I mean really are we spose to drag our disabled children to school screaming an kicking when sumthings wrong and they don’t talk well?leave them there screaming in the halls ?do theses ppl understand sometimes it takes hours to calm them?im sorry im abit on a rant…im upset an I cant afford a lawer…they will not give me a free one…the court wouldn’t even let me tell them hes disabled and I really don’t think they no..and I think some of you are right about the schools just wanting the money as for this iep thing…they spose to work with you about absences?if so they never did me…if anyone has info about this im all ears I could use the help…as I said im fighting it…getting all med records …proof hes disabled…taking those that know him to court with me…even his teacher that’s had to call me to come get him…

  21. Susan Moffitt says:

    Where do you live? I’ll do some research and see if I have any ideas. Does he have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan)? How about a diagnosis??

    Maybe you could homeschool him immediately, figure out a plan and re-enroll him at a later date.

  22. entitie says:

    im in ohio an yes hes got a iep..he has autism…hes on ss because of it…hes high functioning but still has the fits when something sets him off could be anything…they found a ring cromazome…hes delayed but very smart and 7 this year hes talking better then he ever has but still has troubles trying to find the words…but at times acts a lot younger..i don’t no really what todo…but im going to fight it…its not fair…I try my best…hes my babyboy my youngest an last…I don’t understand it…they no hes hard to control at times…they have to call me and I cant even carry him out anymore…the last time two teachers had to help bring him out of school..as soon as I walked in that school I heard my son screaming an crying….if you could help me find info to fight this id be very gretful…it seams like ppl would be more understanding…about the children that have this disorder..its not their fault…my son is wonderful…I don’t want to have to med my 7 year old…even if I home school him they would still drag it into court…and I don’t even think they told the court hes handicapped…ughh

  23. entitie says:

    you no…we wouldn’t have theses troubles if the ppl that made theses laws had to deal with one of our kids for 24hours…because ppl just don’t no…most just read an have no clue…never seen a full fit in rl..I didn’t really till I had my own son…so if you lawmakers see this…before you make laws for things you don’t no anything really about…go spend time with one of our children…try to feed a child that only eats this or that…try to deal with trying to figure out whats wrong when they cant find the words…try cutting their hair…try giving them a bath…try calming a fit…try making them do something they don’t wantta…then youll have a right to talk an make laws…as I said befor I cant carry mine anymore…I seen two teachers grab him by the arms an drag him all the way to my ride his feet dragging…crying an screaming…(its not fair) and my baby couldn’t even tell me what wasn’t fair…then you will have a right to make laws for our kids…ughh im still ranting…

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