By Bill Korach www.thereportcard.org
A ten year old autistic boy became upset at school, and as a result he was arrested and jailed over the pleading of his mother, Luanne Haygood. Autism is a mental disorder and autistic children span spectrum of severity from mildly eccentric to totally withdrawn. As autistic children approach adolescence, they can become easily agitated, and it requires a high degree of expertise and attention to calm them down. It is important to note that autistic children cannot be managed in the same way as normal children. Clearly, the Okeechobee Achievement Academy had no business having John Benjamin in that school. The story, as reported in the Washington Post is horrifying in the reckless and irresponsible way the school handled the matter:
“A school resource officer at Okeechobee Achievement Academy in Florida stood over the 10-year-old boy as his mother asked: “Does he have the same rights as an adult?” Then, the officer reached for the young boy’s wrists.
“I don’t want to be touched,” John Benjamin said, throwing his hands in the air. “I don’t like to be touched.”
His mother, Luanne Haygood, who was filming the emotional scene, said she and her son had been called into the school for state standardizing testing April 12; while they were there, she said, officers arrested her son for an incident that occurred in October.
He spent the night behind bars at a juvenile facility, Haygood said.
Haygood said John Benjamin, who has been diagnosed with autism, had kicked and scratched his paraprofessional educator (also known as an educational assistant) and, unknown to his own family, had an outstanding warrant for battery on a school board employee, a third-degree felony.
“I didn’t know I was going to get arrested like this,” the boy added, as the officers secured his wrists. “I don’t want to be touched. Please don’t touch me.”
As the officers escorted the boy to the police vehicle, his mother asked them whether she could ride with her son to the jail; one of the officers told her no.
“I don’t know what’s going on, Mama!” he screamed. “I don’t understand.”
“I know, honey,” his mother told him. “He has autism — he doesn’t know what’s going on, he’s scared to death, he’s 10 years old!”
Haygood, from Okeechobee, Fla., said her son, who was diagnosed with autism two years ago, has had an individualized education plan (IEP) since he started school and was assigned a paraprofessional educator last year. But, Haygood said, he had been having issues with his aide, claiming he was hurting him, and the school would not assign a new one.”
The school developed an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) for John, but clearly the school had no expertise or ability to handle or even recognize the situation. The result caused far more harm than the school realizes.
Many autistic children need highly individualized treatment and often one-on-one support. The school should have known better, and hopefully John Benjamin will receive the care he needs in the future.