School Punishes Student for Exhibiting Autism Symptoms


The New York Daily News reports that Brandon Strong, a ten-year-old student with autism and ADHD, has been systematically punished at a New York charter school for exhibiting symptoms of his conditions. He has reportedly been detained during lunch and after school for behavior that includes talking to himself, failing to look teachers in the eye and fidgeting. Strong was once a successfully mainstreamed student, but is now having problems sleeping and throwing fits when it’s time to go to school.

Meetings with school officials have brought no resolution and they have maintained that the parents are exaggerating the issues and not on board with the school’s methods of preparing their son for college.

My two sons, who both have high functioning autism, have been in similar scenarios all of their lives. A few years ago, I was told by a teacher that my one son "would never be successful in his class or any other" because he was unable to take handwritten notes, wouldn’t talk when called upon and didn’t make eye contact with the teacher. 

Outraged, I transferred him to another school, where his new teacher recognized his charm and potential. She made it a point to show him great respect in front of all her students and they ended up following her lead. My son eventually ended up receiving the top citizenship award at his grade school graduation, thanks in large part to his caring and compassionate teacher.

Although it sometimes can be effective, changing schools in the middle of the year or during a critical time in a student’s life is not the answer. It is the school that must conform to the child, not the other way around. Accommodations for students with disabilities is the law, but the reality is that classroom policies can be shockingly regressive. Many teachers and administrators just don’t understand autism or the laws surrounding it. 

Often when problems arise with a teacher, administrators take a defensive posture instead of working in conjunction with parents to create a program that works for the child. 

As for young Brandon Strong, toys made specifically for fidgeting exist and can be handled without causing a distraction. Specialized cushions allow for undetectable squirming. Eye contact is to be encouraged, but failure to do so should never be met with punishment. Additionally, the teacher should let it be known to the class that they are to be supportive of everyone, and if Brandon needs to talk to himself sometimes, then that’s okay. 

Getting a student with autism ready for college does not entail forcing them to behave like a neurotypical person. It means giving them a level playing field and a safe environment to develop intellectual and social skills. 

Time and time again, private and public schools fall short in providing the quality of education mandated by the law and parents are forced to fight for the rights of their child. If the situation leads to an adversarial battle, it is best to bring in outside help from an autism advocacy organization. 

Many times, teachers will view special needs students as a nuisance and will do whatever they can to force a child out of their class. But what our schools need are more teachers who genuinely care about all of their students, regardless of the issues they may have.

In the end, the most successful outcomes occur when all parties sit down together and brainstorm about what is best for the student and then implement that plan.


5 Responses to School Punishes Student for Exhibiting Autism Symptoms

  1. Missy Watson says:

    I have a 13yr old son w/Aspergers who has come a very long way. He’s in 8th grade now. He often interrupts the class to inform them in details about the subject matter. They took him off of special services last year due to no further outbursts in the classroom. He has been lucky with teachers so far. They will have him go talk to the school psychologist until he settles down. He hasn’t had much trouble this year at all, but in the past I’ve been told by the teachers “Some of the other parents are complaining because Danny is interrupting the class & they don’t think he belongs here.” It is really hard in a small town & when everyone used to invite him to parties & playdates & then all of a sudden these same people will say “Hi” but it is like they were trying to pretend your not there. I understand their concerns,but this is a growing problem and people need to get used to people with autism. We should all be understanding. Know your states laws & don’t ever give up on getting your child what they deserve. I was told by a psychologist at Cardinal Glennon “This will never get better. He isn’t going to get better.” So much for the experts. With perseverance,teaching and cooperative teachers, it slowly gets better! Danny has about 4 really good friends,& he is on the honor roll now. He used to not write his name in 1st grade & he tore up papers in frustration. Now he’s in advanced classes. He has taught us all alot about acceptance and the value of every human being!

  2. Susan says:

    I´m so sorry to hear of this, and sadly, I´ve experienced the same thing with my son.

    This is making me think that maybe an autism speaker should come to your school and give a talk to the PTA about children having classmates with autism and the need for acceptance and graciousness. A little education could go a long way. These parents send cues to their children, and it´s the grownups who are acting badly.

    I´m glad you child has 4 great friends. That´s huge. He is doing a great job, as are you.

  3. Julie Shepard says:

    This is just awful. I cannot imagine what the parents are going through. The more & more articles I read, the more I realize how lucky I really am. My daughter, 7 year old with Autism, goes to public with an incredible support system in place. If she were ever punished for what she cannot control, I would be very upset & heart broken too.

  4. Let’s keep praying, advocating and directly addressing these inconsiderations. Overall, when we were school-age, the school was mutually viewed as an extension of the learning environment at home. Parents felt safe, happy secured. assured in sending their children off to school. In general,Teachers taught and cared indiscriminately. Times have changed.
    Much of this negatve school-interaction is a result of: 1) people not having a passion for teaching or children leaning, yet they go into this profession. 2) stress 3) limited school budgets dictating limit professional training 4) teachers fear ostracism and loosing job for whisleblowing/report abuse, neglect, problems 5) poor Parent/caregiver participation; etc…
    We do not care how many times we have to write, call, visit, inquire, constructively criticise, and follow the upwards chain of command. This includes contactong news media, legislators and medical professionals to assist. We will do whatever it takes to ensure that our diagnosed son who enjoys learning receives his education with considerations of him being diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum with sensory processing issues.
    Parents and the School are to be a formidable team for each Student. If your child ha special need, learn about IEP, LRE, Inclusion, FAPE, IDEA and other terms, laws, accommodations, modifications, augmentations to help your child be a successful Student. Do not solely depend on the system. Many of our kids are disproportionately falling through the cracks!
    All Students should receive an excellent education since our tax dollars are sponsoring the system.
    Our children only get one opportunity to matriculate on each academic level. Make each and every school year count…. for the sake of the Students.

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