The boy’s mother, Milissa Davis, sent her 12-year-old son to Hope Academy with a recording device in his backpack after he became aggressive at home and wet the bed, WBRZ2 reports.
At least two adults in a classroom, who have been identified as a teacher and teacher’s aide, were picked up on the recording apparently saying awful things to the boy and talking about him.
“You’re just writing the word. What is hard about it?” an adult can be heard saying as the boy grunted in response. The adult then mocked the noise. Later the adult said, “Camden, why don’t you have anything written down? That’s why you can’t sit with everyone. Tell your momma that.”
An adult can also be heard saying, “Let’s see what they do with him in f***ing public school. He was going to go to Live Oak Middle. Uh ah, he wouldn’t make it for a minute.”
Davis told WBRZ2 that she was extremely upset by what she heard. “I just wanted to cry, scream, and do everything I could because it was so bad,” she said. “To think that I had sent my son there every day, and what had happened before, that I didn’t know about.”
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of conditions related to brain development, including autism and Asperger’s syndrome, according to the Mayo Clinic. People with autism may have difficulty picking up on social cues and perform repetitive behaviors, the organization says.
Autism is not rare: About one in 68 children has autism, and the disorder is 4.5 times more common in boys than girls, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Comments like the ones the school employees allegedly made can be upsetting to children with autism, as they can be for children without the condition, Lisa A. Nowinski, director of clinical psychology and training at Massachusetts General Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “These comments can lead to increased sadness, anxiety, and low self-esteem,” she says. “These negative comments can impact the way a child with autism interacts with people around them. The child may learn that people are mean, hurtful, or not supportive.”
Unfortunately, stories like Davis’s have happened before. A father in Florida discovered in 2017 that his autistic son, who is nonverbal, was being abused at school after he became scared of water bottles. A school district report alleged that Eddie Perillo’s son was mistreated by his teacher, who would throw him to the ground and spray a water bottle filled with vinegar in his face, WJLA reports.
A father in New Jersey, Stuart Chaifetz, had his autistic son, Akian, wear a digital recorder to school after he was told that Akian was hitting his teacher and teacher’s aide, which was out of character for him. Chaifetz heard the teacher and an aide calling his son names, making fun of him, yelling at him, and having inappropriate conversations in front of the children in his classroom, ABC News reports.
The latest incident and others like it are “just horrible,” Matt Asner, vice president of development for the Autism Society of America, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Asner points out that there will always be bad people in the world, but often proper training can make a big difference in how educators interact with children who have autism. “Unfortunately, budgets are almost always an issue,” he says, and many teachers may not receive the training they need on autism awareness and how to interact with children who have the condition.
If you have an autistic child, Asner recommends talking to school officials to make sure that your child’s teacher is certified to teach children with autism, and that the school has annual sensitivity training. “That’s something every teacher should be doing,” he says. Again, it won’t necessarily stop all negative interactions with autistic children, but it can help.
Nowinski recommends that parents of autistic children maintain a close relationship with their child’s school team, ask to meet with the staff who will be working with their child, and check in regularly. Parents should also look out for unexpected changes in behavior, increased social withdrawal, or avoidance of specific people or places, Nowinski says, as this can be a sign that something is off at school.
As for Davis, she says she’s hired an attorney because of the situation and plans to file complaints with the Department of Education. Her advice to parents: “If they’re special needs, look at the situation as to why your child is acting that way, because no child deserves to go through what my child did,” she said.
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