I have an autistic son who, luckily for me, is considered high functioning. For those of you that are not familiar with autism, let me give you some basics:
– Autism is considered a spectrum disorder. You have some that are like “Rainman,” and others that are considered high functioning where they can speak and act almost normally.
– Autism affects every single aspect of an affected child’s life, from the clothes that they will wear, to the food that they eat, to the situations that they will feel comfortable in.
– There is no cure for autism. There are therapies that can mitigate the symptoms and can teach the child coping skills. But there is no cure.
– Autism affects boys more than it affects girls, at a 3 – 1 ratio.
– Every day, 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with autism.
– If you have one child with autism, the odds are 50/50 that any subsequent children will also be diagnosed with the disorder.
Fact of the matter is, autism is a disability. My son, J, was diagnosed when he was just shy of 2 years old. I had taken him in for a well-baby check up and the pediatrican was worried about his lack of vocabulary. J had had about 20 words, par for his age, until he was about 22 months old. He then lost all of his words (a hallmark of autsim). The pediatrician referred us to the Early Developmental Intervention Services (EDIS) in Italy (we were stationed overseas at the time) for a consult.
We met with the doctor there and we set up the appointment for J to be evaluated. The evaluation was a series of games and tasks that would allow them to see where J was in his development. The tests took about 2 hours and then we met with the doctor and other evaluators to hear what they had to say. I remember the doctor said that it would be about 2 days before the official evaluation would be available, but then he said, “I can say with utmost certainty that your son has autism.”
I truly don’t remember another word he said for the next 30 minutes.
It was devastating. All of the dreams I had for my son, it seemed, were destroyed with that one sentence. I didn’t know what was in store for him, or us, and it seemed too much to take in. I actually went through a grieving process, in mourning for all that I had expected his life to be.
Five days later, I found out I was pregnant with our youngest son.
Yeah, a banner week, it was not. Why? Because in my most basic research, I had discovered that 50/50 statistic. And because the youngest was soooo not planned.
Just a note here – I wouldn’t trade my youngest for the world, but I want to convey what it was like at that moment in my life. I love both of my children very much and wouldn’t change a thing.
The diagnosis started us on a merry-go-round of therapies for J – speech, occupational and physical therapy three times a week. The folks at EDIS were amazing and they educated me so thoroughly on what to expect when I got back to the States, and on J’s rights, that I have become a school’s worst nightmare – an educated parent.
We left Italy and moved to Mississippi, which was a living hell for all of us when it came to dealing with the school system. I actually got in the principal’s grill, at one point, and told her that I would own her skinny ass if she didn’t do her job the right way.
After Mississippi, we came to NJ. Here it has been a lot easier, on J and me. The school’s here in our district are amazing and the support has been second to none. Not that we haven’t had our issues, but for the most part I’ve been very happy here.
But it’s not that way for everyone in New Jersey.
Just a little over 30 minutes away is a town called Cherry Hill. Now, this is snob city – very rich, very pricey to live there (property taxes are anywhere from $8000-$10000 a year) and it is where all of the “good schools” are supposed to be.
Imagine my surprise, anger and hurt when I read this article this morning:
This man, Stuart Chaifetz, has an autistic son who is not considered high functioning. His son, Akian, cannot vocalize very well. He can’t tell his father about things that happen to him at school.
And this is what the teachers and aides banked on.
In the article there is a video of the audio recording that Mr. Chaifetz acquired of a day in his son’s classroom after he wired his son for sound. Why did he wire him? Because he was getting reports that Akian was acting out in class, hitting the teachers and the aides, something that was very out of the ordinary for his son.
The resulting audio is one of the hardest things that I have ever listened to.
My heart literally hurt for this child, for his father. Tears fell unashamedly down my face as I listened to these horrible women, these bullies, treat a child in such an awful way. At one point, the aide says to the child, “Akian, you’re such a bastard.”
Who does that?????
This father handled the situation in entirely the correct way. He turned the recordings over to the school district. He asked that the teachers be fired (the aide that called his son a bastard was released, but the other teachers were reassigned), and then he made this video. In the video he never once outed the teachers by last name (he did reveal their first names) and all he asked for was a public apology from these women.
Seems to me that that’s the least they can do.
Personally, I’d like to see them in the stocks in the public square.
A person that treats a child, especially a special needs child, in this manner should never be allowed to teach ANY child again. They should not have been moved, reassigned or any such thing. They should have been fired.
They should have been run out of town on a rail tie.
I have to applaud this father for having the bravery to stand up for his son in such a controlled and rational matter. My “mommy” part wants to get in my car, drive 30 minutes and give the superintendent of these schools a piece of my mind.
I’ve done that before and I’d happily do it again.
Bullying is bullying. When it comes from someone that is supposed to protect a child it’s a special kind of betrayal of trust that should not be stood for by anyone. The fact that a teacher was reassigned rather than fired, and that the school district will not tell the father about any punishment meted out, is another betrayal of Akian.
It’s another breach of trust that the school has with the child.
Life with an autistic child is never easy. Life with an autsitic teenager is enough to make you wonder if your future grandchildren are worth it.
But I would never, ever treat my son (or any other child, for that matter) the way that these women treated Akian.
I am still very, very angry about what Akian went through. I’m even more angry about the fact that the school district is trying to cover up what has happened to these teachers and that they have not made public what punishment, if any, was handed out. The school district should have come out publicly against this kind of behavior and used these teachers as an example to any other teacher that might be wanting to teach special needs students.
Let’s hope that these women have learned their lesson. Let’s hope that the school district handles this in a manner that gives dignity back to Akian.
More than anything, I want this child to realize, in his own special way, that this behavior is not condone by any rational person in the world.
I want Akian to know that he is special.
Not because he has special needs, but because he is an amazing little boy.